Sitting in a sleek downtown restaurant in a pink tulle skirt, Sigríður L. Gunnarsdóttir peruses the menu for less than a minute before she orders, with the unmistakable nonchalance reserved for a daily habit.
It’s immediately clear that such confidence is a necessity in her line of work. As the director of Hverfisgallerí, one of the longest-lived commercial art galleries in Reykjavík, Sigríður knows who she is and what she wants—and she’s unapologetic about it.
“Art is so intangible in many senses, so having some continuity reassures people that this is worth their attention,” she explains as she rolls a bundle of spaghetti around her fork. “This is why art needs intermediaries like me. It may not be the most interesting aspect of art, but the gallery-artist relationship is basically what releases the energy to create more.”
True to the beginning
When she took over the day to day running of Hverfisgallerí in 2016, Sigríður had recently left Brussels. She was fresh from a degree in contemporary art at Sotheby’s in London and a career in organisational psychology.
Open to a new challenge, she researched galleries in Brussels and London before taking the reins of Hverfisgallerí. “I had a mix of degrees, business experience and a passion for art,” she says, “so for me to open a gallery was a logical step.”
Since then, she’s had one focus: representing her twelve artists—eleven Icelanders, and a Belgian—to the fullest degree. “An art gallery is a small world in itself,” she says. “We have twelve great and diverse artists. Some of them are represented by galleries in other countries and have had international exposure and experience, but they are rooted in Iceland. They all play well together, and it’s easy to juxtapose them.”
Art’s dirty secret
>Her Icelandic accent barely audible, Sigríður’s European manners betray her years spent in the heart of the continent.
That’s perhaps why her approach to art feels so fresh in the quiet Icelandic scene. She worries openly about the lack of a criticism tradition in Iceland, whose tight-knit and mutually supportive art community leaves little space for serious and outspoken critics; she’s also candid about her job’s expectations.
“People often get shy about it, or they don’t want to address it, like it’s a dirty secret—but you have to focus on selling,” says Sigríður, matter-of-factly. “There have to be sales for the wheels to turn and for art to survive. It makes the artists able to work.”
The story continues
As a businesswoman, then, Sigríður sees herself as the link between the conceptual and the practical—the present and the future. Her focus on continuity is something of a trademark, especially when it comes to fostering relationships between collectors and art—a feeling Sigríður would like to introduce to the Icelandic elite.
“It can be such a positive and energising thing when you have a great piece of art and you find the right person and place for it,” she explains. “The piece comes alive because it has a different setting. The artist makes something, someone buys it, and then the story continues.”