A Grapevine service announcement LOOK BUSY! Growing Likelihood Of Eruption At Bárðarbunga
Mag
Articles
Before Björk There Was…

Before Björk There Was…

Published July 28, 2009

It has always been an Icelander’s greatest dream to be accepted by big city folk. The Sagas are full of stories of Icelanders’ triumphs abroad, be it at the court of the Norwegian king or the Byzantine Emperor. These may have been a tad embellished, as reports of Icelanders’ triumphs in the last few years certainly were. It was artists such as Sigur Rós and Björk who were the first Icelanders in modern times to really conquer the world. But long before them, a man by the name of Sveinn Kristján Bjarnarson had New York at his feet. No one, however, seems to know about him.
Early 20th Century quarter life crisis
Now that Iceland’s reputation is in tatters, it is a welcome opportunity to revisit one of our countrymen’s more successful exploits. In the documentary “From a Turf Cottage to the Cover of Time,” filmmaker Hans Kristján Árnason does just that. At the age of 27, having what would now probably be called a quarter life crisis, Sveinn knocked a few years off his age, passed himself off as being born in the USA and changed his name to Holger Cahill.
As such he became director of the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York City and supervised a program to help starving artists during the Great Depression. Now that depression is upon us again and artists are starving even more than usual, it is a worthwhile reminder of how even the Americans thought is necessary for the state to chip in to save the arts.
Cahill is also credited for helping to move the world capital of visual arts from Paris to New York. Whether this was a good idea is another matter, but probably inevitable. If Cahill was the “pull” effect of moving visual arts across the Atlantic, Hitler was most certainly on the “push” end of things.
Art in the time of depression
 Nevertheless, Cahill deserves credit for his work as a real patron of the arts who cared equally much during bust or boom. The story is told in a straightforward documentary style, which is almost a relief these days. It often seems to be the case, especially when dealing with the visual arts, that the filmmaker sees himself more as artist than chronicler, with the inevitable result that the point gets lost along the way.
Hans Kristján and filmmaker Guðmundur Bjartmarsson resist all such temptation, instead concentrating on the story at hand. The film includes interviews with surviving family members and art historians. The full version was debuted at the Gimli film festival in Winnipeg in late June, having received rave reviews in Fréttablaðið. The DVD is available in Reykjavik bookstores and select music stores.



Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

It Was My Way, And The Highway

by

On the Álftanes peninsula, a good ten kilometres from downtown Reykjavík, lies a unique lava field called Gálgahraun. The towns of Hafnarfjörður, Álftanes and Garðabær were all built around the 8,000-year-old lava, which is on the Nature Conservation Register and was immortalised on canvas by celebrated Icelandic artist Jóhannes S. Kjarval. Gálgahraun was widely considered to be one of the few spots of unspoilt nature left in the greater metropolitan area, but it isn’t any more, as a big highway that cuts the field in two is currently under construction. The road is being built to accommodate the people of

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Hidden People: They’re Just Like Us (Kind Of)

by

When foreign media outlets report on Iceland and need to add a little local colour, they will invariably throw in a quick, ironical side note about the country’s pervasive belief in elves, or Hidden People. The tone is generally one of indulgence with just a dash of condescension, the written equivalent of patting a small child on the head when she introduces her invisible friend Mister Bob Big Jeans. Although many academic studies and informal surveys alike have concluded that a not insignificant portion of the Icelandic population “will not deny the existence of elves,” as Terry Gunnell, a leading

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Hidden People Folktales

by

It is due to the efforts of two men, Jón Árnason (1819-1888) and Magnús Grímsson (1825-1860), that such a large body of 18th and 19th century Icelandic folktales exist today. Jón was a writer and also the first librarian of the National Library of Iceland, and Magnús was a student-turned-priest. Following the popularity of the Grimms Brothers’ fairytales, which were collected and first published in the early 1800s, similar folktale compendiums were collected throughout the Nordic countries. However, it was not until an English scholar named George Stephens issued a special request to Icelanders for a similar collection to be

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

“An Absurd Film Set In Reykjavík”

by

In September 1942 the inhabitants of Reykjavík had breakfast in a state of shock. They were reading an article in Morgunblaðið newspaper about a new Hollywood film set in their city, starring the world famous Norwegian figure skater and movie star Sonja Henie. The headline read “An absurd film set in Reykjavík” and the news lead to a public outcry. Subsequently the US government received a complaint from the Icelandic government. Today Iceland is a natural movie set frequented by famous directors. The makers of big projects like ‘Prometheus,’ ‘Noah’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ have all used it to film

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Book Cellar’s Book Seller

by

Narratives of Reykjavík’s used book culture often take the form of jeremiads—languorous laments for a bygone heyday, a paradise lost through, by and with the fall of print media. By some estimations, there used to be as many as forty secondhand book shops in town, peddling old, worn and loved books to an eager customer base. But by the end of the aughts, there was only one brick-and-mortar store: Bókin on the corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata. Founded in 1964, Bókin remains an institution, a hallowed hall incensed with must and dust, where the 1993 collaboration between early music group

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

An Off-Road Virgin’s First Time

by

I own two motorbikes in London, one for looks, the other for speed and comfort. Neither of these bikes nor any of the thousands of miles I’ve ridden on them adequately prepared me for what I was about to experience when I went off-roading in Iceland for the first time. My motocross sensei for the day was Jói, who is an accomplished postural therapist and has also been motor-cross and enduro biking since his early teens. From the kitchen, I felt rather than heard the rumble of his black Ford Explorer truck turn into my street. As fantasised, it was

Show Me More!