Iceland’s arts culture is thriving and prolific in all disciplines. In the visual arts, especially, the myriad spaces that result in such flourishing activity is evident in a huge variety of independent gallery spaces, collectives, and artist-run initiatives that play an important role in the artistic movements and conversations on the island. The hub of all this activity, of course, takes place in the country’s cultural capital, Reykjavik.
i8 Gallery is one of the oldest and most established art galleries in Iceland, founded in 1995. The Icelandic and international artists represented by the gallery are some of the world’s most influential conceptual artists, including Lawrence Weiner, 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.
Callum Innes exhibition view | Courtesy of i8 Gallery
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Listamenn Gallery is both an exhibition space and a frame shop. Located in the city center, this gallery features a roster of painters, photographers, and sculptors, mostly from Iceland. The small exhibition space offers great lighting and its somewhat industrial feeling gives the visitor the sense of being part of the exhibition-making process.
Kling and Bang presents established and emerging contemporary artists | Courtesy of Kling and Bang
On the third floor of the Marshall House (Marshallhusið), which opened in 2017, in a rapidly transforming part of Reykjavik, you can find Kling og Bang, an artist-run gallery that was established in 2003. The huge building was traditionally used for the seafood industry, but the Grandi harbor area where it is located is becoming known more for culture these days. The gallery aims to introduce emerging and established artists whose works challenge creative thinking. They often work in collaboration with artists and curators. In the same building, you can also find the Living Art Museum, an artist-run exhibition space, and the studio and exhibition space of Olafur Eliasson.
Hverfisgallerí represents an eclectic collection of mostly Icelandic artists, including the textile artist Hildur Bjarnadottir, the late landscape painter Georg Guðni, and the Belgian minimalist painter Jeanine Cohen. The gallery shows exhibitions that are less starkly conceptual and more warmly experimental.
Jeanine Cohen exhibition view | Courtesy of Hverfisgalleri
Samtokin ’78 Gallery
The National Queer Organization, or Samtokin ’78, is an activist group for lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, transgender, and intersex people in Iceland. Their goal is for LGBTQIA people to be more visible, and to enjoy their rights to the fullest in Icelandic society. Samtokin ’78 Gallery is a newly opened addition to the organization and has begun to exhibit artists whose work supports the missions of the organization.
Anna Júlia Friðbjörnsdóttir exhibition view | Courtesy of Harbinger
Harbinger opened in 2014 and is located in Reykjavík on a quiet, mostly residential, street. The small project space is also a place where local zines and artists’ books are sold. It was opened by an artist couple who transformed the former fish shop into a contemporary art space because they felt there was a need to give the neighborhood enough space for local artists, rather than more shops for tourists. The gallery is curated by different artists each year and is a great place to find some provoking contemporary art and a showcase of local talent.
Gallery Port is easy to miss, as it is tucked between two shopfronts on the main shopping street of Laugavegur in the center of Reykjavik. The corridor that leads you into Port’s exhibition space looks more like a place where the cafés take out their trash than the entrance to a gallery, but once you step into the small room, the refreshing work on the walls offers respite from the commercial aesthetic of the street. This small space presents a generous mix of artists whose work ranges from street art to sculpture.
Located in Reykjavik, the Wind and Weather Window Gallery is one that can be seen only from the street outside. 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 having a window gallery was to make exhibitions more inclusive and open to the public. In Iceland especially, the wind and weather are daily topics of discussion; here, the curator has made an exhibition space flow seamlessly into the daily discussion, blending art and life.
Linn Börklund exhibition view | Courtesy of Wind and Weather Window Gallery
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Steina and Woody Vasulka exhibition view | Courtesy of BERG Contemporary
Established in 2016, BERG Contemporary is a commercial gallery in a pristine, light-filled space in the city center. The artists represented by the gallery are a mix of 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 to represent. At BERG Contemporary, you will find experimental and ambitious museum-quality exhibitions.
Ekkisens is located in a basement on a residential street in Reykjavík, in the home of the curator Freyja Eilíf’s grandmother. 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 that means “nonsense.”