Icelandic Art Attack

October 18, 2009


We’re back home from our honeymoon now, but I wanted to write a little bit more about some of the art museums we visited in Iceland. With three buildings spread across the city, Listasafn Reykjavíkur – the Reykjavík Art Museum – has quite a prominent presence. And, even better, it offers free admission! During our stay, we managed to visit two of the sites:

Movie stills exhibition at Hafnarhús

Giant chess set at Hafnarhús

Contemporary art exhibition at Harnarhús

Hafnarhús, which houses the museum’s contemporary art, is easily the most impressive size wise, being situated down by the harbour in an old converted fish warehouse*. At the time of its original construction in the 1930s it was one of the largest buildings in the country. Everything seemed super-sized, from the enormous paintings showing movie stills from Lars von Trier and Friðrik Friðriksson films (of a size one can only exhibit in a warehouse), to the giant chess set in the reading room (the husband won).  Much to our delight, being fans of all things Japanese, there was also an exhibition by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, uniquely displayed in and among packing crates.

Yoshitomo Nara exhibition at Hafnarhús

Yoshitomo Nara exhibition at Harnarhús

Ásmundarsafn, the Ásmundur Sveinsson sculpture museum, is another member of the Listasafn Reykjavíkur family. It houses the sculptures of said artist, who trained as a wood sculptor, alongside works from other contemporary artists. The museum is housed in a building mostly designed by Sveinsson himself, and the coolest part of it by far was the awesome acoustics in the domed room at the top of the building which formerly served as his studio (though how he got any work done up there without being distracted by playing around with the echo is beyond me).

Ásmundarsafn sculpture garden

Ásmundarsafn main house

Sound wave art piece inside Ásmundarsafn

Finally, a shout out to Hnitbörg, the Einar Jónsson museum, which is an independent museum that, like Ásmundarsafn, is surrounded by a sculpture garden. Jónsson was Iceland’s first sculptor. The museum is housed in a purpose built building, once again designed by the artist himself, and includes the home he shared with his wife, as well as his former studio and gallery, which now serve as exhibition spaces for the close to 300 art works on display. Admission is a bargain at only 500 ISK (less than £2 at the current exchange rate), and it’s worth it for seeing the architecture of the building alone. Also, if you’re a member of ICOM you can get in for free!

Hnitbörg house seen from the sculpture garden

*Hafnarhús is also very handy if you’re down by the harbour and in need of a public toilet!

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