Time in Our Life

04/14/2008 | 11:00

This article was published in Iceland Review online

Time in Our Life: The Strymid/La Durée Exhibition at the National Art Gallery

What is time? What is it exactly we are measuring by seconds and minutes? How does time flow? Is it reality or illusion? Those questions inevitably come to mind when trying to ponder the fundamental nature of time.

Review by Victoria Cross, photos courtesy of the artists.

The current exhibition at the National Gallery brings together three female artists—two from Iceland, Gabríela Fridriksdóttir and Gudný Rósa Ingimarsdóttir, and one from Switzerland, Emmanuelle Antille—in an exploration of the elusive concept of time. Though the exhibition is united by the theme, its layout separates each artist’s work into individual halls, indicating that it can be viewed as three separate art shows.

The first floor of the gallery is devoted to the work of Emmanuelle Antille. She has been working with video since the start of her artistic career, exploring family ties, interactions between different social groups, human feelings and desires. It is important for her as an artist to generate real emotions in the spectator, and video installations provide her with this opportunity. The body of work that the artist displays for this exhibition consists of two video installations, drawings, and a series of portraits—altogether entitled “Tornadoes of My Heart.”

This project focuses on the world of teenagers, the time of life when everything is uncertain and unpredictable, when rules can seem so constricting, and when moods can change so quickly and dramatically. The tornado image is central to this series as the artist sees it as a representation of teenage life: “It is powerful, violent and unpredictable, although it can vanish in the air as fast as it appears, and in the end it is only wind,” Antille says.

The turbulent emotions of two young men, at the threshold of adulthood, are explored in the video, “Kill me twice, dear Friend, dear Enemy.”  It is shot as a documentary and centers on the love-hate relationship between two best friends. The Tornado, the central image of the series, appears here as a silent witness of their self-destructive relationship. It frames the segments and also closes the movie.

“Kill me twice, dear Friend, dear Enemy” by Emmanuelle Antille.

The second installation, “Floating, Crashing…,” focuses on the rituals, codes and language between teenagers of the same group. Six screens surround the viewer in a small darkened room. There is no escape from raging emotions, repetitive chanting of the lyrics, and images streaming from the screens. The defensive layers of the skin are instantly penetrated and the impact goes straight to the soul.

“Portrait series” by Emmanuelle Antille.

In the hall filled with portraits of teenagers, one particular piece caught my attention—a series of drawings with a poem. “The Wasted Lyric” was written by the artist, but it could as well have been a teenager’s writing, discovered in somebody’s diary. Its crude language can be shocking, but it mirrors the love-hate relationship of the videos and shows the unexpected vulnerability and tenderness of its author:

…I won’t turn away
I’ll hide you under my skin
Keep you in my belly…

“Wasted Lyric” by Emmanuelle Antille.

One the second floor you will see the work of Gabríela Fridriksdóttir. This is her first exhibition in Reykjavík since 2006. If Emmanuelle’s work, though symbolic, is grounded in reality, Fridriksdóttir creates a surrealistic universe, and populates it with peculiar creatures of her imagination.

Her drawings, sculptures, and video work intertwine with each other; the drawings appear in the movies, and black rocks from the video can be seen at a table in the center of the hall.

“Centerpiece” by Gabríela Fridriksdóttir.

Both videos presented in the National Gallery (“Inside the Core,” 2006 and “The Ouroboros,” 2007) are imbued with rich symbolism, steeped in Icelandic landscapes and ancient sagas. “Inside the Core” explores the timeless theme of creativity and the agony of searching for inspiration, while the “Ouroboros” deals with unity of life and death, dual nature of all things, flow of time and eternal presence of nature.

The idea of “Ouroboros” is based on the ancient symbol of a serpent devouring its tale and forming a circle. In its broadest sense it represents the continuality of life, where the end is often a new beginning and the new beginning often marks the end of the past. The artist describes the “Ouroboros” as a “journey through the seven vertebrae of the snake, which together create a universe of souls.”

“Ouroboros” by Gabríela Fridriksdóttir. Photo, copyright: www.we-make-money-not-art.com.

The work of Gudný Rósa Ingimarsdóttir provides a vivid change from the more assertive styles of the two previous artists. Muted colors, transparent materials, and delicate paper cut-outs bring you into a world of calm concentration. “Requiem,” which the artist chooses as a musical accompaniment to her visual work, deepens this atmosphere. Her abstract drawings recall the world of biology in their shapes, repeated honey comb patterns, and precise numbering, but Ingimarsdóttir steers clear of specific references, leaving the field open to any number of associations and feelings.

“Scared by stupidity” by Gudný Rósa Ingimarsdóttir.

Ingimarsdóttir’s layered pieces bear the traces of memories—old notes, maps, and wallpaper are often used as the background for her work. Some of them even carry physical elements of time, like wallpaper in the vitrine below, which has been rolled for nearly 50 years until the artist forced it open and brought it back to life by cutting out the outlines of the flowers, allowing them to blossom.

“Vitrine-wallpaper” by Gudný Rósa Ingimarsdóttir.

Ingimarsdóttir’s work is about “duration of time,” an endless journey between past and present, where time is measured not by seconds but by the recollections of precious moments. “Every line made has a tendency to place me physically somewhere—taking an old drawing (paper/document earlier handled) places me back into a situation, awakes feelings no longer accurate but worth looking into and analyzing.”

A time-framed passage to adulthood, the empirical time of archaic myths, the universal time of abstraction… all can be viewed as isolated entities as well as integral parts of the complex ever-changing whole.

The exhibition is on display until May 1.

Tel: (+ 354) 515-9620
Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm
Closed on Mondays
Free admission

Silent Clues

The article was published in Iceland Review on-line.
Silent Clues: The Silence Exhibition at Reykjavík Art Museum – Hafnarhús
Finnbogi Pétursson, Haraldur Jónsson, Harpa Árnadóttir and Finnur Arnar Arnarson.
Review by Victoria Cross, photos by Brooks Walker.
Silence is something that we take for granted until we are deprived of it; something that at times we crave and at others cannot wait to run away from. At the recent exhibition at the Reykjavík Art Museum – Hafnarhús, four Icelandic artists, Finnbogi Pétursson, Haraldur Jónsson, Harpa Árnadóttir and Finnur Arnar Arnarson, took on the difficult task of exploring the world of silence. All four artists are well-known; all have worked in the field of art since the early 1990s; all have exhibited their works both in Iceland and abroad. This exhibition is intriguing in its concept and execution, and, for me personally, it became a learning experience. When I first entered the hall several weeks ago, the exhibition was perplexing to me. All I saw was a strange collection of seemingly random pieces – an oddly shaped wooden piece on the wall, a line of magnifying lenses, an abandoned mat with the remains of what seemed to be a picnic, seven fish heads, each one in a separate jar, and a piece of glass suspended from the ceiling. The hard-to-find titles gave little clue for interpreting the art. Ironically, my impressions fit nicely with the theme of the exhibition – everything was silent to me. It took several readings of the brochure, return trips to the museum, and learning about the artists to fully appreciate the exhibition. A closer look at the lenses reveals upside-down images of moving objects. These appear, and disappear, leaving emptiness behind. You don’t immediately realize that they are the reflections of the street outside – passersby, cars, the street itself. The world of reality is turned upside down. This is the artwork of Finnbogi Pétursson, entitled “Moment”.




“Moment” by Finnbogi Pétursson.

The artist is renowned for his work with sound. He has described his installations as “acoustic images of the present,” which makes his approach to silence even more enticing to see. In much of his work he uses sounds as an instrument for creating visual or mental images; here he uses silence to draw visual pictures of moments in time. There are 24 lenses lined up on the wall. The number isn’t accidental – in having 24 lenses the artist subtly suggests a link to film, as 24 frames per second (FPS) was the traditional rate needed to fool the eye in sustaining the illusion of smooth motion. The upside-down images demonstrate the same principles as “camera obscura,” the device that preceded the invention of photo cameras. The combination of modern techniques and equipment, together with old principles of “camera obscura” can be seen as a connection of past and present. All of Pétursson’s installations are space-specific and here he makes clever use of the gallery wall and the high windows overlooking the street.

As the reflections of the street draw your attention to the windows, you are led to the work of Harpa Árnadóttir. If the work of Pétursson has a very direct, practical approach, the work of Árnadóttir is very lyrical. Even the titles can be read like lines from a poem: “They hang on the heavenly hooks (the tears)/I stand for a while under a roof of rain”; “Meanwhile”. A clear glass rectangular pane suspended on steel strings shows the painted traces of rain. Circular patterns recreate the precise moment of raindrops hitting the surface.


“They hang on the heavenly hooks…” by Harpa Árnadóttir.

The theme continues with the drawings of the rain on four windows. Harpa worked along with the rain tapping outside, and what you see is her impression of the rainy pattern of that particular day. The images, though still, constantly change their appearance due to the different light and weather conditions.





“Meanwhile” by Harpa Árnadóttir.  

Her work evokes the soft silence of rainy days; the serenity of viewing them from inside. Silence and rain is a direct passage to childhood memories for her: “Falling asleep in a silent house while listening to the sound of raindrops on the iron roof. […] It makes you think that nothing could ever harm you; brings you to the heart of tranquility itself.”

The theme of silence is a constant companion of Árnadóttir’s work; she has explored it previously in her paintings using just hints of colors, creating barely perceptible images, “lucid stillness.”

The untitled work of Finnur Arnar Arnarson unceremoniously yanks the spectator from the poetic world and firmly places him back into reality. He staged a real-life scene using scattered clothes and crumpled bed sheets, food leftovers and photos as his instruments. The artist moved into the exhibition hall for several days before the opening of the exhibition, slept and ate there in solitude. Then he moved out, leaving behind the trappings of his living and with them the silent memories of his past.





Close up from “Untitled” by Finnur Arnar Arnarson.

Arnarson goes further taking a look at the world of silent dreams. Seven photos of fish, taken with a Polaroid camera; the heads of the same seven fish in jars filled with formaldehyde; the invisible presence of  their bodies locked in a freezer; the video images of the two hands that created the scene; the cross of a window frame leaning against the wall. The composition is open-ended.







General view of “Untitled” by Finnur Arnar Arnarson.

Arnarson presents the viewer with the results of a sequence of action, leaving us to wonder about the reasons or connections between them. In the artist’s words, “Something happened and someone was dreaming in the museum. You can see the results and try to imagine what the dreams were about.”

Turning towards the exit you will face the work of Haraldur Jónsson, entitled “Hella”. It was the most puzzling piece of the exhibition for me at first, but gradually became one of my favorites.

Jónsson always works simultaneously in many layers, with every small detail thought through and adding to the meaning. The world “hella” used as the title is an Icelandic word for pressure in the ears that people experience either during plane flights or when diving into deep water. This pressure muffles sounds, bringing you closer to the world of silence. This word also has a second meaning – a tile in a pavement or a slab. Thus the connection between the real, tangible world and the world of feelings and perceptions is established right from the start.

In connection with the above is the choice of material—compressed light wood and insulated carpet—which imperceptibly affects the acoustics of the space. In its shape “Hella” links the theme of the exhibition with the museum itself. It recreates the outline of the ground plan of the museum, reminding us that the museum itself is a place of muted sounds, silence and silent viewing.






“Hella” by Haraldur Jónsson.

The part in the middle of the “floor plan” is left hollow despite the fact that it is a part of the museum. It is used mostly for private parties, which take place after official hours and are inaccessible to the general public. As Jónsson explains, “The inner contours of the piece thus surround the absent chatter and laughter of the parties, and the piece becomes even more silent by this very fact.”

A photograph in the brochure which accompanies the show is the last piece of the puzzle. A tent erected for a wedding party at the museum covers the portion of the building that is left blank in the artist’s work. Together these two images create a new whole. The shape on the wall becomes a vault guarding the memories of those who have passed through the museum.





“Hellan” by Haraldur Jónsson; photo courtesy of the artist.

Silent images, the rain, the places we visit, the silence of our dreams and memories. Each artist approached the subject of “silence” in their own unique way, but each of their works speaks volumes for those who are willing to listen.

The exhibition is on display until April 27.

Tales from a different world


I came by the exhibition of Ketill Larsen by chance; I actually didn’t know that there is a new exhibition at City Hall.

 At first I thought there were children’s pictures – the strokes were so wild and somewhat messy, the colours so fantastically bold. Then I noticed that composition is repeating itself over and over again in different colour palette. It looked like landscapes in different seasons – you can see the mountains and little houses here and there, the onion shaped roofs with crosses. Some of the drawings were inhabitant by whimsical, capricious, fantasy golden birds with long tales. The overall impression reminded me of folklore tales, naïve art.

 I went to the adjoining café and asked a bartender if he knew something about the artist. As happens so often in Iceland he not only knew the artist but was a friend of his. He told me that artist would be at the exhibition in 20 minutes.  While waiting, I Googled his name, Ketill Larsen. There was no mention of him on any of the art sites and the few sites that had his name were in Icelandic. All I gathered with my limited vocabulary of Icelandic was that he was born in Reykjavik, was in his late sixties, played the role of Santa Claus during Christmas celebrations, was an actor by education, worked with kids and had the peculiar habit of writing notes on his hand. A French journalist happened to sit nearby and during our brief interaction she mentioned that a documentary was shot of him by Joseph Marzolla and Tomas Lemarquis and it will open on the 16th of March.


The artist came in. He was short and stout, with a high forehead and receding hairline, and he leaned heavily on a cane. His disheveled beard and apparent indifference to his own appearance seemed out of place or out of modern time, but his ancient eyes sparkled with lively curiosity and he obviously was in high spirits. As soon as we sat down for a talk at the table in his exhibition hall it became obvious how utterly unconventional he is. He kept breaking into little songs and stories of fantastic ships from outer space; it was close to impossible to get a straight answer even on such a straightforward question as when he was born. But along with this a certain magic started to appear – people kept coming in the hall, seemingly just to greet him. Everyone of them was joining us at the table and sharing their memories of Ketill Larsen, mentioning what a wonderful person he was, what a joy it was to be around him. Through their words a mystical figure started to emerge, a well-loved story teller; an eccentric artist; a person whose fantastic stories became indivisible from his own life. (In the following days I asked different people about Ketill, and every time a warm smile appeared on their faces with “Oh, Ketill” followed by yet another colourful story).


I steered conversation back to his drawings and found out that he started painting in his thirties without any formal training.  “The drawings just came to me. When time comes they  spill out of my hand. I can talk to you and draw; I can do anything and draw.” Through  the years he has had numerous exhibitions in Iceland and also shown his work in Denmark, Italy, the Faroese and Africa.  The magical landscapes are the staple of his of his work, the “tales from a different world” as he calls them.







Pioneers of Art – Samal Joensen Mikines and Nina Saemundsson


*This article first appeared at Iceland Review on-line on February, 18. (Photos courtesy of Kjarvalsstadir museum)


Imagine being born on a secluded island, which at the time of your birth counts no more than 120 people. Imagine growing up surrounded by endless water and bottomless sky in a remote fishing village. There, each journey to the ocean can easily turn into the last one, and life mainly consists of seeing off the fishermen and bidding farewell to those lost at sea. Imagine at the age of nine, due to your good singing voice, being made “Singer for the Dead.” Each time tragedy strikes, according to Faroese tradition, you place your hand on a dead person’s chest and sing, accompanying the dead on their last journey. Death is solidly woven into the pattern of everyday life.

The Kjarvalsstadir branch of the Reykjavík Art Museum is holding a retrospective exhibition of Sámal Joensen Mikines (1906-1979), the most important artist of the Faroe Islands. He was born on the isolated island of Mykines, the westernmost island of the archipelago, and became the first professional artist of his land and the first one to gain recognition abroad – a pioneer of the Faroese art scene.

The exhibition is divided into three main areas – a central hall is devoted to the themes of life and death, and halls to the right and left focus on specific genres, landscapes and portraits respectively.

Upon entering the main hall of the exhibition, you will immediately be drawn to two large canvases; both titled “Pilot Whale Killing.” They dominate the first hall much as whale hunting dominated life in Mykines. The dark figures in the boats, thrashing whales, blood-colored water and the orange glow of the sky create a threatening, battle-like atmosphere.



Pilot Whale Killing, 1944

As you turn slightly to the right you will see yet another painting with the same title and almost identical composition. This one, however, conveys a very different feeling. The bright yellow colors of the whale hunters’ clothes, the hue of the sky and the gleaming black T-shape of a whale’s tail give this painting a tone of joyful ritual, a celebration of life if you will.


Pilot Whale Killing, 1957

Going left through the central hall will bring you to the heart of the exhibition and the recurring theme of the artist’s work – death. You will see the most somber by palette and mood paintings. There is no movement in the darkened rooms; black silhouettes in the background dissolve into darkness; the stillness makes grief almost tangible. On the same wall, contrasting with the theme of death, “Faroese Dance” depicts a joyous celebration at the end of the whale hunting season.


At the Death Bed, 1940


Faroese Dance, 1944

Faced with the circle of life and death you have to find a way of balancing them. For the artist, nature becomes the source of harmony. As you turn to the opposite wall, you will see several paintings projecting scenes of calm serenity, all of them with a similar motif – people and the sea.

“Ships Leaving Harbour,” with a woman looking at a far-away ship, is especially striking. The woman’s figure in a softly flowing dress is placed between the sky and the sea, symbolically uniting them. The ultramarine and brilliant green colors; the simplified, geometric outline of a cliff; the orange dot of the three-master sailing away just below the horizon – create a wonderfully tranquil scene.


Ships Leaving Harbour, 1937-1938

Passing into the next hall brings you to one of the artist’s favorite genres, the landscape. All the landscapes are inspired by his beloved Mykines. Mikines was so devoted to his island that he added its name to his surname and became known as Sámal Joensen Mikines. Even after settling in Copenhagen he returned to his island every summer and continued to paint it in different seasons and with different techniques. The vivid colors of Mykines are captured best in “Northern Wind” and “View from Mykines Islet.”


View from Mykines Islet, 1959

The landscapes include some interesting samples of an experimentation stage of the artist’s career. In “A House on Mykines Island” you will notice the clear influence of Modernism. Shortly after World War II, the Faroese art that was dominated by Mikines for more than 20 years experienced an explosion of new talented artists, who either returned to the islands after completing their studies in Denmark – like Ruth Smith or Janus Kamban – or chose the Faroes as a place to settle down, like Jack Kampmann. They all brought in new ideas, but Mikines was challenged most by Kampmann, with his interest in analytical Modernism. Mikines felt compelled to experiment with new techniques and modern structures in his paintings. In the words of the curator of the exhibition, Adalsteinn Ingólfsson, this period brought Mikines “to the verge of abstraction.”


A House on Mykines Island, 1950

The opposite hall of the exhibition contains a series of portraits. The careful observer will notice that in the bulk of his work, Mikines used the human form as a prop to convey an idea or emotion – the figures always simplified, the faces lacking distinct features. This is not the case with his portraits, which are quite detailed. His portraits have been highly acclaimed by critics; but I found his other work much more interesting.

Kjarvalsstadir Museum also holds a small exhibition of Nína Saemundsson (1892-1965), which brings you to a very different world of smooth, clean lines. Saemundsson was a pioneer too, the first professional Icelandic female sculptor. She spent most of her life abroad, but chose to return to Iceland at the age of 63. Though the artist’s sculpture “Maternal Love” has been a part of the Reykjavík landscape since 1930, Saemundsson is not very well known in Iceland. Unfortunately, the sculpture at Laekjargata in the city center is not only hard to spot, but also has the most unflattering backdrop of deconstructed buildings. However, you can enjoy a copy of the same sculpture at the exhibit. One of my favorite pieces here is “Bedouin Lady Praying,” which exudes spiritual peace and harmony. This small exhibition does not present a great variety of the artist’s work, but is a good start.


Mother Love, c. 1925; Photo: copyright Brooks Walker


Bedouin Lady Praying, c. 1924; Photo: copyright Brooks Walker

In 1926, Saemundsson won a competition for a piece for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. It is called “Spirit of Achievement” and captures the essence of an artist who wasn’t afraid to follow her calling at a time when not many women dared to do so.


Spirit of Achievement, 1926; Photo: copyright Dianne L. Durante, www.ForgottenDelights.com

Both exhibitions are on display until April 6.

Tel: (+354) 517-1290
Flókagata, 105 Reykjavík
Open daily 10 am to 5 pm
Free admission

Exhibitions in the Start Art Gallery

* This article first appeared at Iceland Review on-line on January, 21, 2008.

Think, Listen, Feel: Recent Exhibitions in the Start Art Gallery

While strolling along the main street of Reykjavík you inevitably notice a bright yellow triangle with a red border which reads “Start Art.” Start Art is an art gallery at Laugavegur 12b, but those words might also be a good motto for the city itself. Art in every form is welcome here—be it a little gnome placed in the rocks near a house, graffiti of tie-tying instructions on a wall, paintings, sculptures or the unusual design of a house. My impression is that the artist’s goal here is self-expression, the sharing of free flowing ideas, with gaining recognition and commercial success being secondary; a nice bonus. Since Iceland is a relatively young country, you encounter mostly contemporary art here.  What I find most appealing about it is its openness to interpretation. You are not led to a conclusion, but left to do your own thinking. Since there aren’t any rigid rules in contemporary art, there is no comparison, just free falling, liking or disliking. Through this the art serves the most authentic of its purposes—to open a person’s mind to something new, to stretch its limits.

“Start Art” - the logo of the gallery and motto of its artists.

“Start Art” – the logo of the gallery and motto of its artists.

Start Art is a small, two-floor gallery that will be celebrating its first anniversary in March. It is a collaboration of six artists, whose styles are very different from each other, but who are united in their view of art as an ever-changing form, the door to unlimited possibilities. The most enchanting quality of Start Art is that there is no attempt to be grand; it is simple, humble and inviting. The gallery shows the works of its own artists as well as opening its doors to others.

Presently, there are two guest exhibitions in the gallery. There is an exhibition of Sigrid Valtingojer, a well-established Icelandic artist, best known for her prints. She has had solo exhibitions in Denmark, Japan, Spain and Italy, as well as many group exhibitions.  In the front hall you will see her “Palestinian” series.  The prints were inspired by the history and suffering of the Palestinian people. The focus of each print is the name of a Palestinian city or settlement. Some of them are well known: Jerusalem, Gaza, Bethlehem, Hebron; some are unfamiliar: Nablus, or Kafr Qasem, but each one of them has a tragic story to tell.


“Kafr Qasem” by Sigrid Valtingojer.

The village of Kafr Qasem became the site of a massacre during the first days of the Sinai war, when 47 Arab villagers were shot as they returned home from work, unaware of a newly imposed curfew. Among the dead were women and children. The massacre and the trial that followed have become milestones in the national psyche of Israeli society; a reminder for soldiers and commanders alike that there is indeed a moral border one should abide by.

The names of the cities, drawn in wide uneven strokes, bring to mind tears for those who lost their lives; families driven from their own lands. Strokes of red remind us of war still going strong and blood still being shed.  In the words of the artist, “The media covers the Palestinian conflict often enough, but people are tired of listening to the news. I try to make them see the same issues from a different perspective; to attract their attention through my art.”

Two other halls on the same floor will show you a different series of her art work as well as an introduction to her different techniques. There are several paintings on glass with old prints used as background, exquisite black and white print, enriched with a poem, paper sculptures and drawings.

On the second floor you will encounter the most unusual exhibition of Elín Helena Evertsdóttir, titled “Pong”. It explores the concepts of space and time. The idea behind “Pong” is to create a real time experience for the audience with a minimum of material. Lasting three minutes and 40 seconds, the work consists of one sound that travels through the space between speakers situated alongside the wall.


Different Media by Thórdís Alda Sigurdardóttir.


The rest of the second floor holds the works of the artists who own the gallery. Bursting with flowers, the paintings of Thuríður Sigurdardóttir will cheer you up; the more earth-colored palette of Ása Ólafsdóttir’s works will fill you with warmth; and the interesting use of wax in the works of Thórdís Alda Sigurdardóttir will surprise you. When the gallery doesn’t host guest artist exhibits, the work of these artists is presented in greater variety and numbers, but even this display will give you a glimpse of their buzzing creativity.           

If you find yourself in downtown Reykjavík, tired of the crowds and window shopping, look for the Start Art gallery. The recent exhibitions will be on display through the 6th of February. The gallery keeps its doors open from 13:00 to 17:00 Tuesday to Saturday.

Tel: +354 551 2306
Laugavegur 12b/ 101 Reykjavík
Free admission


Mirror, Mirror on the Wall




Hafnarhús branch of the Reykjavik Art museum holds the exhibition of one of the Iceland’s leading conceptual artists Hreinn Frihinnsson. The variety of the media he works with is remarkable – there are photos and notes, installations and drawings, glass and cardboard, wood and fabric. The first image meeting you at the entrance is a hand reflecting in the mirror. The label reads “So far”.  My mind immediately answered “only so far you can reach”.  Right next to it is a vertical raw of tear – shaped crystals, simply named “16 drops.”  In the next room you are faced with a white and black photo of a man standing in a darkened room. He stands in profile a viewer; his hands caught a splash of colours – red, green and purple. The work is untitled.  On the same wall in complete contrast you see a cardboard box, brightly coloured inside and titled “Sanctuary”. There is a left shoe on the floor, mirrored to show its mate, named “Pair”; there is a “Beauty Mark” made of small black felt circle lying lonely on the windowsill, there are mirrors on the floor that make glass jars whole or doubled.  All these pieces seemingly thrown together without any particular order create an enchanted universe, where objects reflecting in the mirrors, start leaving their own life, old legends, caught on photos and papers, inviting you for a journey, everyday objects  looked delightfully odd and  their unexpected placement made you smile.

A catalog itself can be read like a poetry “For light, shadow and dust”, “Afterthought”, “Element of Doubt”, “Lightening and Thunder”, “Seven times”.  The artist seems to be playing with a notice that everything can be turned into art. His humor denies conventional thinking, opens up minds.  For some it can be tough to take – as I was strolling around, admiring the author’s creativity, I saw a young man coming in, making a quick spin around, shaking his head and leaving with an expression of puzzlement on his face.

If the thought of conceptual art makes you uneasy, don’t skip this exhibition, just take your kids along, they will help you to discover its delights and surprises.



Now you see it, now you don’t…


I read about the Blonde Miss World 1951 exhibition in “What’s on in Reykjavik”. It was said that it  explored the idea and ideology behind the stereotype of the blonde, which sounded intriguing enough to check it out.

 The exhibition took place in Kjarvalsstaðir branch of the Reykjavik Art Museum. It was my first exposure to the art of Birgir Snaæbjörn Birgisson and it was full of surprises. When I glanced in the hall for the first time, I thought “how strange, there is nothing there, only white canvasses on the wall.”  I was so sure of this that I proceed checking out another small exhibition in the corridor.  Then, too embarassed to ask where was this much talked about the Blonde exhibition, I stepped into the hall.  I stood there for a second and suddenly images started to emerge from seeminly black paintings. I was surrounded by smiling, blue-eyed blondes, almost invisible in the fog of white.  All the portraits were exactly the same size, had white background, all used only the palest shades of grey, yellow and white.  The effect was utterly fascinating, though chilling, one cannot help but feel slightly uncomfortable under their piercing stares. The exhibition pictured the portraits of the winners of Miss World beauty pageants since the competition was launced in 1951.

 The artist, Birgir Snaæbjörn Birgisson, is known for his style of painting on the white canvasses with pale transparent colours and also for painting only blondes.  His other series include “Blonde Nurses Series” and “Blond Heads – Nordic Race”.

Besides Iceland the artist has held exhibitions in England, Holland and the USA, where he caused stir.  The essence of the artist’s work was captured best by Mika Hanulla, the curator of the exhibit, “Now you see it, now you don’t.  Now you think you know it, now you don’t.”

I don’t know what is behind his “absence of colour” and loyalty to blondes – spiritual or racial pureness – but it was the most memorable exhibition of December for me.