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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.



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The Best Way To Hit 12 Bars In 12 Hours!

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We at the Grapevine do not encourage people to drink to excess, but if you ever wanted to have 12 drinks at 12 bars in 12 hours, we’ve mapped out the best way to do that! Most bars in Reykjavík have a happy hour, and if you align them in the correct order on a Friday, you can get a dozen in a row. If you give yourself 15–20 minutes to get from place to place, we reckon you should be able to make it. You’ll need to have a friend with you though, as a few places on the

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Við Erum Best!

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At last count, there were 326,340 people living in Iceland. That’s .0045% of the world’s population and while it isn’t really a competition, this has created a bit of an inferiority complex among some Icelanders who, as Grapevine writer Oddur Sturluson put it, “find it nothing short of scandalous that their small, unarmed country doesn’t have as much political pull as some of their larger, more powerful neighbours.” To compensate, Oddur argued, Icelanders “invented something brilliant in its simplicity and devastating in its effectiveness…The Per Capita Record.” This, he explained, is “quite simply when Iceland does something noticeable, compared to

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The Ghosts Of Best-Ofs Past

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Compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK has always been, at best, a half-absurd proposition. As much as we love our city, it is a tiny one, a miniscule one. It is a city that hosts exactly two competitors for the category of ‘best Indian food’, in a country where the Prime Minister ceremoniously and reverently chomped down the first Big Mac served at the island’s first McDonald’s franchise back in ’93 (miss u, cheap cardboard hamburgers and delicious fries). Yet, compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK, half-absurd as the act may be, is always a deeply satisfying endeavour. The best part is:

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Best Of The News

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In reviewing the past year in news, you will see certain patterns emerge: certain public figures, events and topics that seem to ignite social media and office break room conversations for days, weeks or even months. Arguments are had, alliances are formed, and people are unfriended over these very stories. These are news trends that never really go away; they just change form and come back to pay repeated visits, for better or for worse. Let Grapevine take you back over the past year to savour the delectable banquet that is the very best the news has had to offer.

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Completely Unthinkable

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As you read this, the State Prosecutor is reviewing the latest findings of a months-long police investigation of the Ministry of the Interior, over a memo on Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos that found itself in the hands of select members of the media last November. This memo impugned Tony’s reputation, with accusations— which later proved false and misleading—at a time when he was facing impending deportation, and the Ministry was facing a protest. So far, those investigations have seemingly confirmed what has long been suspected: the memo originated in the Ministry, that Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir

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Searching For Ido

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In the summer of 2004, exactly 10 years ago, a tragic accident happened on Laugavegur, Iceland’s most popular hiking trail. Ido Keinan, a young man from Israel, passed away after getting trapped in a vicious storm. Only one kilometre away from the hut in Hrafntinnusker, he died of exposure to the fierce elements. To this day a memorial on the Laugavegur trail reminds hikers of the highlands’ hidden dangers. Friday, June 25, 2004, Ben-Gurion airport, Tel-Aviv—Dressed in a black t-shirt and baggy jeans, Ido Keinan, 25 years of age, says goodbye to his family. He is about to take a

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