Contemporary art Finland

Warhol’s electric chairs adorn medieval Finnish church

The pop artist’s series depicting the execution device are part of an exhibition in Turku’s cathedral

Warhol's work is displayed in a chapel of the medieval church (Photo: © Kantti/taloforum.fi)

TURKU. In Finland’s medieval city Turku, this year’s European Capital of Culture, four pieces of Andy Warhol’s “Electric Chair” series (1971) have been hang up in an surprising location — the city’s Lutheran cathedral. The works, depicting the execution device from Sing Sing maximum security prison in upstate New York, are hanging in one of the church’s chapels. The display is part of a performance and art exhibition entitled “The Last Supper”, which runs until the end of July.

“It might sound like an odd idea and actually the church officials disliked my suggestion at first,” said Perttu Ollila, who curated the show. “But Warhol’s religious side is not that well known by the general public and the empty electric chairs can be seen as an empty cross,” he added.

Besides the four “Electric Chair” works, the show includes four works from Warhol’s “Last Supper” series. “It is a common theme in art, with Leonardo da Vinci’s version probably being the most well known,” said Ollila. Works on the subject by artists Francine LeClercq and Pauno Pohjolainen are installed in other chapels in the cathedral, the country’s mother church for the Lutheran faith.

“In the end, even the church senate, which visited the exhibition recently, and the archbishop, who lives at the cathedral, liked it,” said Jaana Rantala from the Turku and Kaarina Parish Union, who is coordinating the projects the church undertakes during Turku’s term as European Capital of Culture. “The electric chair and the cross stand for the suffering of humans.” She said that the congregation was less hesitant about Warhol’s morbid motif than the general idea of exhibiting contemporary art in the medieval church. “But looking at the architecture and design of the interior it became clear that all periods, except for the 20th century, are represented in the building. Hence adding contemporary art seemed logical,” she said.

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