Over the years, Reykjavik has developed an international reputation as a growing creative hub for both emerging and established visual artists. Its innovative contemporary art galleries come in all shapes and sizes, and edgy new experimentations sit alongside works in traditional media, as Icelandic exhibitors jostle with talent from around the world. These are ten of the best contemporary art galleries and museums in Reykjavik.
Kling & Bang
The arrival in 2003 of artist-led Kling & Bang brought a whole new set-up for Reykjavik’s creative scene. Ten artists from very different backgrounds devised a mission ‘to introduce emerging and established, national and international artists and their works, that challenge the context and content of creative thinking’. The members of Kling & Bang display their own art, as well as collaborating with exhibitors to produce thought-provoking pieces. One such exhibitor is Ragnar Kjartansson, who in the past has shown a nine-channel video installation at the gallery, featuring portraits of bohemian friends, including musicians from Reykjavik. They are currently relocating to a new space that will open in Fall 2016.
Haust í Vaglaskógi By Þorgrímur Andri Einarsson | Courtesy of Gallerí Fold
Established in 1990, Gallerí Fold has become Iceland’s leading exhibition and auction house. It sells the work of over 60 of the country’s best-known artists, such as painter Harry Bilson, whose playful work was chosen to represent the gallery at Art Copenhagen in 2013. Gallerí Fold’s premises at Raudararstigur 14 are home to five exhibition spaces in a vast building of 600 square meters. Here, enthusiasts can witness the latest developments in Icelandic art through regular commercial and recreational showings. Past exhibitions have featured works by internationally renowned artists, including Louisa Matthiasdottir and Andy Warhol.
One of the capital’s most ambitious venues, the i8 Gallery has earned an excellent international reputation, in addition to its loyal following at home. Past exhibitions have included multimedia installations created by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, and participatory environments designed by Brazilian pioneer Ernesto Neto. The gallery has also hosted shows by American artists, such as Roni Horn and Lawrence Weiner. Extensive photographic works by Horn have questioned the nature of human identity and memory, while visitors have been intrigued by Weiner’s trademark linguistic statements spread across the walls. i8 Gallery also represents several contemporary Icelandic artists, who tend to work in abstract, minimalist or conceptual styles.
Gallerí Bakarí’s cozy exhibition space used to house one of Reykjavik’s oldest bakeries. Today it showcases contemporary art across a broad spectrum of styles and in a variety of media. The gallery is one of the best sources of work by Icelandic artists in the capital. Renowned painter Erró, born Gudmundur Gudmundsson in northwest Iceland, is one such example. His cartoon-style kaleidoscopic works, bursting with energy, have been shown at Gallerí Bakarí in addition to world-famous venues like the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Gotti Bernhöft is another popular artist-designer to have exhibited at Gallerí Bakarí. Gotti’s vibrant works in oil or spray paint reflect his graffiti and comics background, but he is perhaps best known for his eye-catching album cover art for Reykjavik’s post-rock band, Sigur Rós.
ASÍ Art Museum is housed in a charming 1930s building designed by sculptors Ásmundur Sveinsson and Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir. Its gallery was founded in 1961, when industrialist and book publisher Ragnar Jónsson donated 120 works by the country’s most renowned painters to the Icelandic Confederation of Labour. His mission was to bring art to the working classes, an ethos the gallery still upholds through mounting shows in workplaces around the country. In addition to displaying its collection of 20th-century works, the ASÍ Art Museum also champions contemporary art. Its series of exhibitions called Interplay have put an old master in dialogue with newer artists. At one such show, CoBrA expressionist, Svavar Guðnason, investigated the power of imagination with painters Magnús Helgason and Úlfur Karlsson, as well as musician Úlfur Eldjárn.
The largest visual art institution in Iceland, Reykjavík Art Museum has three venues in the city: Kjarvalsstadir, Hafnarhús and the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum and Park. The harsh concrete exterior of Kjarvalsstadir provides a stark contrast to the beauty of the paintings inside, such as those by Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972), after whom it is named. It displays Icelandic and international art and design, catering to diverse tastes. Entering the scene in 2000, Hafnarhús (Harbor House), nurtures new trends in contemporary art. It is also home to the Erró collection, staging exhibitions devoted to the artist’s work. Additionally, the restaurant at Hafnarhús is one of the venue’s highlights due to its stunning harbor views.
A recent addition to the capital’s art scene, Týsgallerí can be found in the centre of Thingholt in Reykjavik’s old town. Specializing in local contemporary art, it opens a new solo exhibition every four weeks. The gallery hosts shows by intriguing artists, such as Snorri Ásmundsson. Occasionally described as the naughty child in Icelandic art, Snorri is known for his performances that challenge social and religious values, as well as earning a reputation as an accomplished yet controversial, painter. Týsgallerí is also home to works by The Icelandic Love Corporation, a triple-act who produce highly inventive and attention-grabbing installations, sculptures, videos and performances.
Founded in 1978, The Living Art Museum was a reaction to the dominance of the National Gallery of Iceland during that era. A non-profit, artist-run organization, it tackled social and cultural politics by introducing contemporary art to the local scene. In Icelandic it is called Nýlistasafnið, meaning a new museum for a new kind of art. Its scope stretches beyond traditional exhibitions to live music and performances, film and video screenings, lectures, symposiums, poetry readings and theatre. The museum has a collection of over 2000 works donated by the likes of Kristján Guðmundsson, Carsten Höller and Dieter Roth, among others.
Since opening in 1968, The Nordic House has played host to diverse gatherings and events celebrating the culture of Iceland and other Nordic countries. Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto (1898 –1976) famously designed its iconic building and furnishings. The exhibition space is not a gallery in the traditional sense, but showcases an eclectic range of works, from local photography to street art. Visitors can view a selection of lithography in the Artotek, and browse modern Nordic literature and filmography in the library. A small shop sells design products and books, specializing in Finnish glass design connected to that of Alvar Aalto. Highly acclaimed restaurant DILL is also a major attraction at The Nordic House.
Listamenn Galleri, Reykjavík | Courtesy of Listamenn
Situated next door to The Living Art Museum, Listamenn’s picture-framing and exhibition space is well located on Skulagata. Officially known as Listamenn-Innrömmun Gallerí, it specializes in both established and new local talent. A popular go-to for the latest trends in contemporary Icelandic art, past shows have explored links between visual media and music, such as that of native experimental band Múm. Listamenn has also shown work by the likes of renowned photographer-journalist-curator, Einar Falur Ingólfsson, including his beautifully crisp photographs of Iceland.