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
Thousands Expected At The 2016 SlutWalk

Thousands Expected At The 2016 SlutWalk

by

For the sixth year in a row, thousands of Icelanders will take to the streets this Saturday to protest victim-blaming,

Mag
Articles
RECAP: Saga of Eiríkur the Red

RECAP: Saga of Eiríkur the Red

by

Let’s just get this out of the way upfront: forget what the history books told you because Columbus did not

Mag
Articles
My Own Private Brexit: An English Euro 2016 Defector Speaks

My Own Private Brexit: An English Euro 2016 Defector Speaks

by

As an Englishman who decamped to Iceland permanently several years ago, the question of “but… why?” has been a fixture

Mag
Articles
True Crime Iceland: The Hitchhiker Murder

True Crime Iceland: The Hitchhiker Murder

by

I was only planning to scare them. I placed one shot into the rifle, which I carried in one hand,

Mag
Articles
Tourism, Slavery, And Worker Exploitation

Tourism, Slavery, And Worker Exploitation

by

Readers who’ve been following our daily news output might have noticed a disturbing increase in stories about worker exploitation in

Mag
Articles
The Hot Button: Presidents

The Hot Button: Presidents

by

The new hot button issue is president fever. Elections in Iceland, from small villages to Parliament itself, are almost always

Show Me More!