The museum (called quite literally “Museum” or “Collection” in Icelandic) faces Laugavegur, but looking in the window it is difficult to discern how extensive the collection is. I recall once seeing a single suited mannequin in the window and presuming the space to be a minimalist and/or snobby men’s tailor shop. Fortunately, it’s much more approachable.
The gallery holds works in various mediums by artists of many nationalities, including numerous Icelanders. This makes Safn an all-in-one national and international art stop.
My favorite room is on the second floor. As I came up the steps I thought I heard bells, or maybe chimes, ringing without a pattern; just haphazard sound. I figured it was some kid messing around with an exhibit, so I followed the noise, ready to give a dry, critical stare to chill even the most defiant teenager.
But the room, like every other in the museum, had no one in it. Instead, there was a blue kiddie pool with bowls and wine glasses floating on a mechanically-produced current, ringing as they touched or crashed into one another. The display seemed almost like a petting zoo, one of those exhibits which makes you wonder if you’re allowed to touch it, if you’re supposed to touch it, or if maybe someone is watching to see if you’re going to.
Many of us in the Western world are raised with the sentiment that our singular influence is always meaningful; that each of our movements has a consequence, and this is what initiates development. So of course I reached into the little ceramic petting zoo and freed the smaller bowls, looking over my shoulder to see if someone was going to jump out and give me a dry, critical stare.
As I walked through the rest of the museum, I listened for the higher tones in the ringing, keeping an ear on the bowls. There were many pieces that held an experience as intricate and pleasurable. There is a room with one exhibit entitled “Litir” (“Colours”) which requires that you close the door behind you; there is a video piece which shows a child tucked into bed, a miniature helicopter wildly buzzing overhead, darting down like a man-eating dragonfly; and on the first floor is an Andreas Serrano print entitled “Clansman” which, though not the artist’s notorious bodily-fluids-and-religious-symbols fare, holds attention as though it were.
The fairly extensive library upstairs, filled with art books in several languages, is a little hideaway up above Laugavegur and one more noteworthy aspect of a surprisingly vast gallery. Plan some time for this place. You may want to move in.