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 work with talent from around the world. Don’t miss these great contemporary art galleries and museums when you visit Reykjavik.
Kling and Bang
Kling and Bang presents established and emerging contemporary artists | Courtesy of Kling and 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. The gallery also works together with Vienna’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, the City of Reykjavík and Icelandair Hotels. In the same building, you’ll also find Studio Ólafur Elíasson and The Living Art Museum.
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 four exhibition spaces in a vast building of 600 square metres (6,500 square feet). The latest developments in Icelandic art can be seen in a variety of shows. The gallery takes part in Reykjavik Culture Night every year, and entrance to Gallerí Fold is always free.
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-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson, 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.
The Ásmundarsalur Gallery is located in a charming 1930s building designed by sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson, who used it as an artist’s studio. Previously, it also hosted an art school and it was here that many of the most important early avant-garde activities in Iceland took place. Today, Ásmundarsalur is a non-profit space that focuses on all forms of art and design. It’s well worth a visit to see the often unusual and exciting exhibitions, and to admire the beautiful building – it’s built in the “funkis” style, a version of functionalism seen in Iceland and other Nordic countries.
The largest visual art institution in Iceland, Reykjavík Art Museum has three venues in the city: Kjarvalsstaðir, Hafnarhús and the previously mentioned Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum and Park. The harsh concrete exterior of Kjarvalsstaðir 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 harbour views, and don’t miss Ásmundur Sveinsson’s beautiful domed Ásmundarsafn building.
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 organisation, 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, symposia, 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, and is located in the same building as Kling & Bang.
Since opening in 1968, the Nordic House has played host to diverse gatherings and events celebrating the culture of Iceland and other Nordic countries. It’s one for the architecture fans – peerless 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, specialising in Finnish glass design connected to that of Alvar Aalto.
Situated next door to the Living Art Museum, Listamenn’s picture-framing and exhibition space is well located on Skúlagata. 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 and curator Einar Falur Ingólfsson, including his beautifully crisp photographs of Iceland.