With a population of 330,000 residents, Iceland’s arts culture is thriving and prolific in all disciplines. In the visual arts especially, the myriad of spaces that result in such flourishing activity is a variety of independent gallery spaces, collectives, and artist-run initiatives which play an important role in the artistic movements and conversations on the island.
BERG Contemporary is Reykjavík’s newest gallery addition. Opened in 2016, the commercial gallery is in a pristine, light-filled space in the city center. The eight artist roster of the gallery features both Icelandic and International artists with a focus on video and multimedia installations, including the video art pioneers Steina and Woody Vasulka, whom the gallery is the first ever to represent. At BERG Contemporary you will find experimental and ambitious museum-quality exhibitions.
Steina and Woody Vasulka, Installation View, 2017 | Courtesy of BERG Contemporary
Gallerí Úthverfa (Outvert Art Space) is a non-profit cultural arts space located in the Ísafjörður in the Westfjörds of Iceland. Founded in 2013, the space focuses on collaborating with artists and curators to help them realize projects that have a cultural impact. Exhibitions have included both local and international artists, with paintings, photography, and media installations. One of very few exhibition spaces in this part of Iceland, the gallery is an important cultural center in the area.
Karlotta Blöndal, “Sporbrautir,” 2017 | Courtesy of Gallerí Úthverfa
i8 Gallery was founded in 1995 and is one the most established commercial galleries in Iceland. The Icelandic and international artists represented by the gallery are some of the world’s most influential conceptual artists, including Lawrence Weiner, Roni Horn, Karin Sander, Olafur Eliasson, and Ragnar Kjartansson. The gallery also works collaboratively with other widely shown artists. They feature works by younger generations and historical figures in Icelandic conceptual art such as the brothers Sigurður Guðmundsosn and Kristján Guðmundsson, and Hreinn Friðfinsson.
Hreinn Friðfinnsson, “House Project,” 1974 |Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík
Hverfisgallerí represents an eclectic roster of mostly Icelandic artists. Artists include the textile artist, Hildur Bjarnadottir, the late landscape painter Georg Guðni, and the Belgian minimalist painter, Jeanine Cohen. The gallery’s small roster shows exhibitions that are less starkly conceptual and more warmly experimental. There is a fringe element to the artists represented, something in the title “hverfis” which means “neighborhood.”
Jeanine Cohen, Winter Series No. 1, 2013 |Courtesy of Hverfisgallerí
The Marshall House
The Marshall House (Marshallhusið) opened in 2017 in a rapidly transforming part of Reykjavik. Traditionally used for the seafood industry, the Grandi harbor area is becoming known more for culture. The Marshall House, named after US Marshall aid to Iceland during WWII, once long empty, is now a powerhouse of artistic energy. Many at its opening hailed the day as the “confirmation day of Icelandic visual arts.” With a bar and restaurant on the ground floor, the three upper floors each feature a different exhibition space/studio.
Marshallhúsið | Courtesy of Nýlistasafnið/Photo by Lilja Birgisdóttir.
On the first floor is NÝLO (Nýlistasafnið) or The Living Art Museum, a non-profit, artist-run museum and association as well as venue space. Founded in 1978 by local artists, the museum’s extensive collection is based solely on donations. On the third floor is Kling og Bang, established in 2003, also by local artists. The gallery aims to introduce emerging and established artists whose works challenge creative thinking. They often work in collaboration with artists and curators. On the fourth floor is an open studio exhibition space of Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, whose research oriented conceptual art combines the best of visual art and science.
“Rolling Line” – Ólafur Lárusson | Courtesy of The Living Art Museum. Photo by Lilja Birgisdóttir
Wind and Weather Window Gallery
Located in Reykjavik, this gallery is one which can only be seen from the outside street. Owned and operated by the American/Icelandic artist, Kathy Clark, whose studio is behind the gallery, the space allows for artists to experiment with the capabilities of a window gallery. The curator’s inspiration for the having a window gallery was to make exhibitions more inclusive and open to the public. In Iceland especially, the wind and weather is a daily topic of discussion; here the curator has made an exhibition space flow seamlessly into the daily discussion, blending art and life.
Linn Björklund, “The Shell,” Exhibition View, 2016 | Courtesy of Wind and Weather Window Gallery
Ekkisens is located in Reykjavík in the basement of curator and artist, Freyja Eilíf’s grandmother’s home on a residential street. This space is for emerging and experimental work of a particularly youthful aesthetic and opened in 2014 with an exhibition of 26 newly graduated art students. Such is the nature of the gallery scene in Iceland, taking things into one’s own hands and making the gap between art and life ever smaller. The title comes from an old Icelandic curse word which translates to “nonsense.” The gallery is the former studio of the curator’s grandfather, the artist Völundur Draumland.
Skaftfell Center for Visual Art is based in the village of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. Not only does it contain a gallery, but the space also encourages discourse on contemporary art in an otherwise far-removed place in Iceland. Skaftfell is a meeting place between local and international artists visiting as part of the residency program. In the gallery, you can see work by local Icelandic artists, visiting artists, and collaborations in the form of performances, concerts, and art installations.
Anna Júlía Friðbjörnsdóttir, "1:1," Exhibition View, 2016 | Courtesy of the artist
Harbinger opened in 2014 and is located in Reykjavík. The small project space is also where local zines and artist books are sold. Opened by an artist couple, they transformed the former fish shop into a contemporary art space based on the need to give the neighborhood enough space for local artists and not more tourist business shops. The gallery is now curated by different artists each year. For provoking contemporary art and showcase of local talent, visit this small gallery space on a quiet mostly residential street.
Hjalteyri Center for Contemporary Art is located close to the northern town of Akureyri. This 1500-square meter exhibition space is located in a historical herring factory. The art collective that runs the center opened their first exhibition in 2008. Again, not a gallery per se, but the expansive project space allows for a variety of collaborations to take place between local artists in a variety of mediums and disciplines in order to add to cultural events in the area. The curators use the space to their advantage, including site-specific installations.