Listasafn Íslands: Introducing Icelandic Art
See the treasures of Icelandic art in diverse exhibitions
Listasafn Íslands’ National Gallery of Iceland has a long and proud history; it was founded in October 1884 in Copenhagen by Birni Bjarnarson (1853-1918), a county commissioner. The museum’s works were displayed in Alþingi from 1885 to 1950 when it moved to the Museum House on Suðurgata, which it shared with the National Museum of Iceland. The art museum was officially opened there in 1951. In 1987, the gallery moved to its current home at Fríkirkjuvegi 7, one of the best places to explore Icelandic art in Reykjavík.
The National Gallery puts on beautifully curated exhibitions featuring an exciting array of Icelandic artists. Its latest exhibition, Fram fjörðinn, seint um haust, by Sigtryggur Bjarni Baldvinsson, features large watercolour works that Sigtryggur painted focusing on a late autumn theme in the northern region of Héðinsfjörður. Over the past several years, an increasing number of Sigtryggur’s pieces have originated in Héðinsfjörður, a desert fjord on Tröllaskagi, where the artist has documented nature in the fjord.
Sigtryggur views the work in Héðinsfjörður as an attempt to listen to nature, seek information and convey an important message. Still, the artist has followed the changes in the fjord’s ecosystem with exhibitions. The works at the exhibition Fram fjörðinn are the result of the artist’s work in Héðinsfjörður for the past two years and reflect the state of the landscape in a larger context where autumn prevails, and a harsh winter can be expected.
Another hall in the National Gallery features the exhibition Glerregn by visual artist Rúrí, which is on display until the end of August. The work consists of 500 razor-sharp pieces of glass, each ending in a point, spanning from the ceiling to the floor. Each glass hangs on a clear thread, so the air moves when you walk by the piece, and the glass starts to rotate on the lines. By entering the work, the viewer is exposed to an experience that cannot be obtained by merely looking, and when the sharp glass closes around the viewer, the threat seems almost palpable.
Guests can also view a private collection of artworks that were donated to the gallery in 2022 by the couple Ingibjargar Guðmundsdóttir and Þorvaldar Guðmundsson. The exhibition, Síld og Fisk, consists of paintings, drawings, graphic works, and sculptures, is one of the largest private collections in Iceland and includes around 1400 works by many of the nation’s leading artists. Of these, there are about 400 works by Jóhannes S. Kjarval, who was a great friend of the couple.
There’s always a lot to look forward to as the exhibitions rotate a few times a year. In September, the exhibition Nokkur nýleg verk, will open, a comprehensive and diverse collection ranging from works from the 16th century to 2022. The show will reflect the complexity of unique Icelandic contemporary art. There are now over 15,000 works in the art collection, which grows yearly. The museum has almost 30 million ISK at its disposal to purchase works of art per year, and this exhibition will shine a light on a portion of the collection.
The National Gallery is ideal for art lovers to spend a couple of hours during a holiday in Reykjavík. The exhibitions change during the year and it’s best to visit the Listasafn Íslands website for information on current and upcoming exhibitions. It’s open every day from 10 am to 5 pm, closed on Mondays. Be sure to stop by during your trip!
Listasafn Íslands Laufásvegur 12 101 Reykjavík