Artists outraged by Sinebrychoff Museum's Coca-Cola bottle exhibition

Two hundred people, including prominent cultural figures, have signed an online petition demanding that the Sinebrychoff Art Museum end its “Coco-Cola bottle 100 years” exhibition. They accuse the museum, part of the Finnish National Gallery network, of advertising for a global brand and forgetting its original role as an art gallery.

"Warhol on Coke Bottle in Coke Crate" 2013, by Pakpoom Silaphan Image: Sinebrychoffin taidemuseo

One of the country’s leading art critics, Otso Kantokorpi, is demanding that the Sinebrychoff Museum, part of the Finnish National Gallery network, end its "Coca-Cola Bottle 100 years" exhibit with an online petition that has gathered 200 names.

According to Kantokorpi, a museum maintained by public funds should not host an exhibition that markets a global brand. Kantokorpi has announced that he will boycott the Sinebrychoff museum for the rest of his life.

Coca-Cola exhibit originally intended for sponsor

Sinebrychoff Art Museum Director Kirsi Eskelinen says that the Museum's main summer exhibition is "Rococo – Nordic Interpretations" and the Coca-Cola display in the museum's cellar is in fact not an exhibition but a small- form event, which is related to the museum's ongoing cooperation with Sinebrychoff, the Nordic region’s oldest brewery, which owns the license for Coca-Cola in Finland.

"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," she says.

Coca-Cola bottles inspired many artists

Eskelinen does not see the exhibition as advertising: "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."

In cultural circles the question is why modern Coca-Cola artwork is in a museum that specialises in older, European art.

"We have had many exhibitions in which modern art and older works are in dialogue. Just because we are specialised in classical art does not mean that we can’t be in step with the times," says Eskelinen.

Dilemma: Sponsorship or bare walls

Sinebrychoff Art Museum, like other museums, is struggling with decreasing state funding. According to the museum director, tax money only sponsors what's on the museum's walls. The rest of the operating budget comes from entrance fees, lottery funding, as well as museum shop and café profits.

"Sinebrychoff has supported our museum for over 15 years to the tune of 700,000 euros. This year we received 50,000 euros in support from them," says Eskelinen.

In his online petition, art critic Otso Kantokorpi says that museums should show their lack of resources so that decision-makers don’t form a false opinion about how museums fund what hangs on their walls.

Eskelinen holds a different opinion.

"The Sinebrychoff company’s support is very significant to us. We have been able to carry out many things that our annual budget would not have allowed for otherwise," she says.