Yinka Shonibare, Medusa West, 2015. Digital chromogenic print. © Yinka Shonibare CBE. Courtesy James Cohan, New York.
February 20–May 17, 2020
February 20–May 17, 2020
Inspiration – Iconic Works

Contemporay art side by side with classical works

How have international contemporary artists been inspired by the classics of European art? And why is it these works, in particular, that have become known around the world? Inspiration – Iconic Works presents art that draws inspiration from iconic masterpieces, created by today’s contemporary artists. A selection of works from Nationalmuseum's vast collections are displayed in dialogue with the contemporary art objects.

The building blocks of the visual DNA of Western art can be traced back to a number of iconic works, so called signature pieces that have strong relevance in today’s world from the sculptures of antiquity to Mona Lisa and Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker– just to mention some of the examples. Interestingly, the art historical narrative was shaped hand in hand with the collection and display practices of 19th century museums in Europe and these signature pieces play a leading role in the story of art no matter if we look at the earliest art historical publications or the latest versions on the same issue.

Inspiration – Iconic Works tells the story of the signature works: what they were, where they emerged and why and how they have influenced the contemporary art scene. Another aspect of the exhibition addresses the significance of the museum buildings, for example through a series of contemporary photographic interpretations by Ola Kolehmainen, a Finnish artist based in Berlin. The Nationalmuseum building is also part of the story.

The exhibition features works by artists such as Marina Abramović, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Nancy Fouts, Mark Karasick, Sara Masüger, Kiki Smith and Yinka Shonibare. A selection from Nationalmusum’s vast collections of paintings, plaster casts, drawings and applied arts is presented in dialogue with the contemporary art.

A major publication, edited by Dr. Susanna Pettersson will accompany the exhibition.

The exhibition is curated by Susanna Pettersson, Director General, Nationalmuseum and James Putnam, curator, London.

In collaboration

Inspiration – Iconic Works has been organized in collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki. The exhibition is on display in Helsinki from June 18 until September 20, 2020.


Nancy Fouts The Thinker (after Rodin/Degas), 2014, 2014 Bronze and gauze. Nancy Fouts’ Private Collection. © Nancy Fouts. Photo: Dominic Lee.
Laokoon, unknowns artist, plaster. Nationalmuseum.
Anna Riwkin, Anna as Nefertiti, c 1930/2004. Silver gelatin print. Moderna Museet, Stockholm. © Anna Riwkin
Joseph Kosuth, Cathexis #53 (series 1981), 2019. Framed black and white photograph with coloured X's applied to the surface. 203 x 151.2 x 5.5 cm Courtesy of the Artist Image: Neonlauro.
Marina Abramović/Ulay, Anima Mundi (Pieta), 1983/2002.Chromogenic Print.© Marina Abramović and Ulay. Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives.
Pietro Perugino, S:t Sebastian, painted in 1485, approximately, oil on canvas (transferred from wooden panel). Nationalmuseum.
Yinka Shonibare, Medusa West, 2015. Digital chromogenic print. © Yinka Shonibare CBE. Courtesy James Cohan, New York.
Henrik Jonsson, Chapter 1 - Self-Chosen Exile, 2010 Plaster. © Henrik Jonsson.
Pieter Bruegel the younger, Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap. Oil on wood. Nationalmuseum.
Ola Kohlemainen, MVSEVM XIII (Victoria and Albert Museum), 2020. © Ola Kohlemainen.
Marie-Philippe Coupin de la Couperie, Raphael Adjusts Fornarina’s Hair Before Painting her Portrait. Painted in 1824, oil on canvas. Nationalmuseum.