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In Finland's oldest city

Preeti verma Lal, Nov 25 2017, 23:19 IST

Salvador Dali is not dead. I am his reincarnation." In Pargas (Finland), I stopped dead on the threshold of Art Bank as its owner Ted Wallin leaned and soughed by my ears.

On the green wall, Dali (the real, not the reincarnate) loomed in a black-and-white photograph; large painted ants wandered from deliberately peeling plaster of the white ceiling. An ornate sofa set with striped upholstery, a bronze Venus with breasts as drawers, gigantic lips as settee, and a clock melting on a tree branch.

In Art Bank's Salvador Dali Private Collection, everything is surreal. So is Wallin, with a curly pouf, ruby-red shirt buttons, silver ornament on the coat collar, a colossal ring burdening his middle finger. Utter flamboyance appended with the 'I am Dali reincarnation' thrum.

"You know, Dali has reached a fourth dimension. One day, Dali told me that I should arrange the room as if it were his," Wallin convincingly puffed when I asked him when his Dali-obsession began.

The art collector has never met Dali but offers Salvador Dali Dinner to groups (roughly Rs 2 lakh for a group of 10). Set amidst sculptures, the dinner borrows from the artist's erotic cook book Les Diners de Gala.

Wallin, like Dali, takes art to the dining table where food and surrealism are served together. In Art Bank, fish is not served in satin slippers, and frogs do not hop out of cloche, but the dinner, as Wallin puts it, is a surreal experience.

A good chase

That day in Turku, Finland's oldest city, I left Dali and the jaunty Wallin to look for an angel in a marble bathroom of a Finnish palace. In Turku's Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum (Museum of History & Contemporary Art), Angel, Anish Kapoor's 1990 sculpture (a rock painted in blue pigment), is strategically placed between the white bath tub and the grey washbasin. Kapoor is no stranger to the museum. In 1990, it hosted Kapoor's solo exhibition. On display was a series of rocks covered in colour pigment, Angel being one of them. Angel was acquired by the Matti Koivurinta Art Foundation, and since then has rested in the bathroom, a spot assigned by Kapoor.

In another room, it was Kama Sutra that lay framed in white. Heavily inspired by Kama Sutra the book, Finnish artist Johanna Kiivaskoski cuts mythological and historical motifs out of bigleaf ligularia leaves that she dries and presses herself.

On another wall hang big names -Andy Warhol's Mao, Picasso's Swordsman (signed 16/7/1969), and Lars-Gunnar Nordstrom's frame that adopts Concretism, which is governed by shining, smooth and monotone areas that combine to create a sense of rhythm.

Found in the ruins

However, it is in the first floor of Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova that art makes way for history, narrating the story of Turku's medieval history through ruins, animal bones, artefacts and dark cellars. Housed in what was once the villa of the rich Rettig family in the late 20s, the ruins were discovered when the Matti Koivuranta Foundation bought the villa in 1991 to place its contemporary 20th century art collections. What lay underneath were intact pieces of Turku's medieval waterfront street, the Convent Quarter, almost dating back to the 13th century.

From medieval Turku, I walked back to modern Turku that, in 2011, was designated the Cultural Capital of Europe. The most memorable remnant of that year of celebration is a 25-metre daisy that artists Jani Rättyä and Antti Stöckell placed beside the vintage sailing ships on River Aura (near Maritime Museum). Daisy is white and pretty, but it is Turku's Posankka statue that always sneaks into the world's weirdest statues list. Posankka is a hybrid - it's either a pig-duck or a duck-pig, you'd never know. Artist Alvar Gullichsen meant it to be a criticism of modern gene-splicing technology.

Built in 1999, it was floated down the Aurajoki river, but now sits near the University of Turku.

Later that evening, as I walked by the Baltic Sea in Villa Wolax, I noticed an apparition running down the dirt track, his red parka adding colour to the white birch of the villa. It was Wallin. He pulled out my diamanté-studded red woollen beanie, leaned, and soughed by my ears, "You forgot this in Art Bank. Here it is." In a split second, Wallin was gone. The self-proclaimed Dali-reincarnate was chivalrous. He drove miles to return my beanie.

On a blithe day, I can silence the 'reincarnation' and chirp about how Dali returned my beanie in Turku.

Not a bad arty story!

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