Peek inside the life of a museum curator

Peek inside the life of a museum curator

An eye for beauty, a nose for relevance, and an ear for future rumblings create a hunger for pushing boundaries in Suvi Saloniemi.


These days almost anyone can call themselves a “curator” – we “curate” websites, tweets, and Facebook pages. But curating professionally requires a special talent for contextualisation.

This gift comes naturally to Suvi Saloniemi, chief curator at Helsinki’s Design Museum, who describes herself as “insatiably curious and passionate about all things visual.”

Now in her sixth year as chief curator, she regards her career as a “lifelong learning process.” Her proudest achievement to date is a recent retrospective celebrating the career of Finnish design legend Eero Aarnio. A smaller version of the show is featuring at the prestigious Hyundai Design Library in Seoul until May 13.

Each new exhibition project begins with weeks of intensive research.

Beyond cups and cutlery

With an academic background in art history – along with fine arts training and a colourful career including detours as a DJ, journalist, and director of a fashion institute – Saloniemi is uniquely equipped to pick up “weak signals” and engage wide audiences.

“Museums create their exhibition calendars many years in advance, but it’s difficult to predict what will be hot four years from now,” she says.

“My philosophy is to stretch the boundaries of what design can be and what designers can do, going beyond cups and cutlery. I play a supportive, advisory role encouraging designers to be the best they can be.”

The Helsinki Design Museum’s recent Enter and Encounter exhibition is a good example: “We wanted visitors to discover something they didn’t traditionally think of as design. I am proud to have discovered a new name for this show, Kozeen Shiwan, a chef who does amazing things with food and design, which is a big new trend.”

Lemmetti Gallery is a new Helsinki space specialising in Finnish design collectibles.

Conceptual crossovers

Another of Saloniemi’s current passions is limited-edition design, which she promotes as a member of the advisory board of CHART Design, a new section at Copenhagen’s CHART Art Fair held every August.

“Finland has a long tradition of democratic, utilitarian design. With many young designers opting out of mass production in favour of greater creativity, the collectibles trend is really taking off in the Nordic region,” says Saloniemi.

With resources growing scarce, she sees limited-edition design as a potential antidote to throwaway consumerism. “Call me a dreamer, but maybe if more people invested in collectibles, they would treasure their possessions longer.”

Text Silja Kudel
Photos Elina Simonen

“I love my office, but Helsinki really deserves a larger museum dedicated to design,” says Suvi Saloniemi.

“The Savoy restaurant designed by Alvar Aalto in 1937 is a perfect authentic setting for a special dinner,” recommends Saloniemi.


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