Finnish Art Critics Protest Branded Coca-Cola Exhibition

Critics say it's just a giant ad for soda.

Pakpoom Silaphan, Warhol Coke is Coke Bottle in Crate (2013). Photo: Coca-Cola Finland.
Pakpoom Silaphan, Warhol Coke is Coke Bottle in Crate (2013). Photo: Coca-Cola Finland.

Leading Finnish art critic, Otso Kantokorpi, is spearheading an effort to take down the exhibition “Coca-Cola Bottle 100 years” at Helsinki’s Sinebrychoff Museum. The institution, part of the Finnish National Gallery network, has come under fire from Kantokorpi who has attracted 200 other signatures on his online petition, according to YLE, Finland’s national public-broadcasting company. And judging from the institution’s website, which doesn’t list the show on its roster of current exhibitions, it looks like the show may have come down.

Arguing that the exhibition is a marketing device for a global brand, Kantokorpi feels that the show is inappropriate for a tax-payer funded museum. He is threatening to enact a lifetime boycott against the Sinebrychoff.

As far as reasons to protest a museum exhibition go, it’s no Bill Cosby scandal, but the museum may be bowing to the pressure anyway. The institution website does not list any current exhibitions, although a press release indicating that the show was scheduled to run through October 10 is still accessible.

Pakpoom Silaphan, Dali Sits on Coke (2013). Photo: Coca-Cola Finland.

Pakpoom Silaphan, Dali Sits on Coke (2013).
Photo: Coca-Cola Finland.

artnet News reached out to the institution for comment but had not received a response at press time.

Sinebrychoff, a Finnish brewery and soft drink company, owns the Finnish license for Coca-Cola. The controversial show was “produced in cooperation with Coca-Cola,” according to the official press release.

Kirsi Eskelinen, the museum’s director, told YLE that the Coke show, drawn from the official Coca-Cola company art collection, is not considered an exhibition, but an event.

“From the beginning, the Coca-Cola display was tailor-made and intended for our long-term supporter Sinebrychoff’s stakeholder events. We later decided to open the space up to the general public, as well,” Eskelinen insisted, denying accusations that the display was little more than a soda ad.

Steve Kaufman, Mona Lisa (2008). Photo: Coca-Cola Finland.

Steve Kaufman, Mona Lisa (2008).
Photo: Coca-Cola Finland.

She also went on to defend the exhibition’s artistic value, noting that “Coca-Cola bottles have inspired many artists over the years including Andy Warhol, whose work at the end of the 1960s is in the Coca-Cola collection.”

The exhibition is somewhat of a departure for the museum’s normal fare of traditional European art.

Corporate museum sponsorship is nothing new, and as state funding declines, especially in Europe, institutions are being forced to look for support in less traditional avenues—if the Whitney Museum of American Art is getting $5 million from Tiffany & Co. to sponsor the Biennial, what hope does a small Finnish museum have?

Sinebrychoff has reportedly given its namesake art museum €700,000 over the last 15 years, including a €50,000 gift this year.

UPDATE: In an e-mail, Eskelinen told artnet News that the exhibition is continuing as planned: “The event is related to Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s ongoing cooperation with Sinebrychoff Brewery, which owns the license for Coca-Cola in Finland. The event is listed on the museum website under Exhibitions/Other Activities.”

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