Mrs Eeva Ahtisaari’s speech opening The Pursuit of
Excellence - Classic Design from Finland Exhibition
in Athens on 15 September 1998

Exhibitions of the applied arts offer an excellent way of approaching the often distant cultures of different countries. Objects convey a national culture more effectively than literature or art. Since the beginning of the century, presentations of industrial design have played an important role in the formation of Finnish identity and in making the country known abroad. The concept of ‘Finnish design’ was born of the strivings of talented and versatile artists and architects, spurred on by the award of numerous international prizes. Their successes in the years after the second world war boosted economic development and exports, and have made design an essential pillar of industry. Good design today offers an important competitive edge, whether the question concerns shipbuilding, mobile phones or utility glassware. Among the other fields of Finnish know-how are innovations that are labour saving and improve industrial safety.


Finnish design draws deeply upon a strong national tradition with roots in folk culture and its related crafts. One aspect of the aim of practicality in the design of everyday objects is a respect for materials and a desire to express their characteristics. The shapes that best serve the function of an object are clear, but in their simplicity may sometimes appear severe. The diversity of Finnish nature has inspired a multiplicity of unique motifs, colours and shapes.


Finns have always been receptive to outside influences. Hellas is the cradle of European culture, whose arts and sciences form the basis of Western civilisation and an inexhaustible source of inspiration for future generations. Though we take for granted many of the ancient Hellenic inventions, in their time they were regarded as gifts of the gods. There should be something divine in all creativeness, even though progress always occurs through human experience and industry. In Antiquity, the high quality of work was more important than the quantity of goods, and neither were labour-saving devices used. Even though work in Finland is no longer performed by hand, the aim is still for high quality and an all-embracing aesthetic.


This exhibition reflects the Finnish way of life and the striving for beauty and functionalism in everyday life. It is my hope that it will help promote cultural exchange and deepen our understanding of each other’s cultures. I would extend my thanks to all those who have worked so hard to make this exhibition possible. It is with great pleasure that I declare the exhibition open.