From Iceland — Art Off The Page: The Reykjavík Art Book Fair Has Something For Everyone

Art Off The Page: The Reykjavík Art Book Fair Has Something For Everyone

Published May 22, 2024

Art Off The Page: The Reykjavík Art Book Fair Has Something For Everyone
Photo by
Joana Fontinha

Mention “art book,” and one might think of a glossy coffee table book, a pamphlet titled something along the lines of “radical intervention,” or a monograph of a respected artist — objects that seem slightly obscure. Indeed, for those who didn’t attend art school, art books might come across inaccessible or even intimidating. But Edda Kristín Sigurjónsdóttir and Joe Keys are on a mission as the organisers of the upcoming Reykjavík Art Book Fair to prove that art books can offer something both to the professional and the curious eye.

Origins and innovation

The Reykjavík Art Book Fair debuted a few years ago and has since been building a name for itself within the local arts and culture calendar. Initiated by visual artist Sigurður Atli Sigurðsson, the project started within the walls of the Iceland Academy of the Arts. “In the beginning, it was focused on zines that the students at the Art Academy were working on,” Edda explains. “From there, it grew, looking more towards the book fairs that happen around the world.”

Over the years, the fair has taken many forms, with its venues changing to accommodate the scale. After being held in Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundarsalur, it moved two years ago into the Reykjavík Art Museum.

“It’s not an event that is closed and scary and you have to be a part of the art community to be there.”

“There is great value in having a platform like this, where you have all those active in the scene coming together — both individual artists, students, collectives, well-established and less established artists, galleries, museums, like the National Gallery. You see examples from the whole scene using this platform equally,” says Edda.

While the fair has expanded considerably since its inception, the atmosphere remains intimate and approachable, unlike some of the larger fairs you’d find in cities like New York or Paris. It’s perfect for a quick browse or a longer hangout to peruse the publications on offer while connecting directly with the artists. 

“Alongside the fair, where people can come and buy the books, we will have four exhibitions in different places that sort of show the history of the artist books in Iceland,” Joe says, highlighting the programming on the periphery of the fair itself.

The exhibition programme starts at the Living Art Museum, displaying a variety of artist’s books from their collection, including works by Dieter Roth, Jan Voss, Rúna Þorkelsdóttir, Þorvaldur Þorsteinsson, Philip Corner, Alison Knowles and Sigríður Björnsdóttir. Next, Y Gallery will present seven books by contemporary artists based in Iceland and abroad, exploring and questioning the medium’s definition. Home-based gallery 1.h.v. (Fyrsta hæð til vinstri) will showcase works by artists from diverse backgrounds, including national treasure Eggert Pétursson. Associate Gallery will host Rebound by Patrick Killoran, featuring rebound books from his personal library with new covers bearing messages and names.

Much to the organiser’s delight, alongside the main programme, participants find fresh, creative ways to interact with the fair. For instance, a publisher Consonant Collective is planning a live record cutting event. “What they intend to do at the fair is record people reading their poetry directly onto the lathe record,” Joe explains. “They’re taking the idea of poetry in book form and running with it in real time. It’s quite fantastic!” 

Collaboration is another highlight of the fair, embodied by established galleries creating opportunities for emerging artists. “Gallery Kannski has done a really beautiful thing,” he adds. “They’ve got a full table and started an open call for individual artists who maybe only have one book, or object that they can show and sell.” Joe notes the importance of including artists with limited works but acknowledges the logistical challenges of handling separate payments on the fair’s operational scale. “It’s really good that they took the initiative without even talking to us about it. They made it more accessible.”

Of all shapes and sizes

“There are these odd objects that cost a lot of money. But there are also other objects that cost nothing and are made by art students who are giving them away for free.”

“Artist books and art books are always such a struggle to define,” says Joe when asked about the works represented at the fair. For a country the size of Iceland, the variety of books on display is astonishing. “We’re not worried about the definition,” he adds. “It’s just how people interpret it. We’ve got museums selling artists’ monographs and then we’ve got ARKIR making very handcrafted books, often one-of-a-kind. It’s a complete spectrum of professional, personal and handcrafted. There’s room for everything in between.”

Edda chimes in, “Last year, the diversity was tremendous. It was inspiring to walk between the tables and see all the different versions of art books. I think this is a great way to expand people’s views on art books, but also books in general.” 

Whether you’re looking to buy a monograph of a nationally renowned artist or a weird pamphlet of haikus, the belief that art books cost a fortune is not entirely accurate. “There are these odd objects that cost a lot of money,” says Joe. “But there are also other objects that cost nothing and are made by art students who are giving them away for free.” 

Similarly to the diverse mediums represented, the fair also boasts a geographically diverse selection — with a few international guests and local participants from across Iceland. “It’s nice to have participants from the countryside,” says Edda. “It’s not just a Reykavík kind of thing.” 

She hopes this geographical inclusivity will foster new connections and collaborations. “I think this fair also has the potential to develop into some sort of meeting point — an opportunity to meet and connect.” 

“It’s not an event that is closed and scary and you have to be a part of the art community to be there,” adds Edda, adding that the Reykjavík Art Book Fair welcomes families with kids, teenagers exploring new horizons and those with already formed artistic visions.

Engage at every turn

The facilitators outline that since the fair’s programme is quite varied and extensive, it was essential to reflect that visually. Collaborating with designers Einar and Agnar, they try to use illustrative and somewhat humorous imagery to capture the essence of the event without overwhelming visitors. “We’ve got so many exhibitions to talk about, different participants and extra events that we don’t want to overload people with information,” explains Joe. “We’re figuring out how we can work with as little as possible.”

Edda adds that their approach to visuals was inspired by Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir’s exhibition for the Venice Biennale, where “all the necessary information was incorporated into the artworks,” eliminating the need for explanatory brochures or wall text.

Beyond showcasing the art books, the fair strives to transform the courtyard of Reykjavík Art Museum into a vibrant social platform, at least for a few days. Visitors are invited to relax and mingle, enjoying Icelandic wild ale by Grugg & Makk and exploring offerings like the pop-up flower shop Blómstra. Add the exhibition programme and the fair becomes “a curated navigation through the city.”

“This is the perfect place to come and buy the Christmas present,” Edda laughs. “Just get it over with.”

Reykjavík Art Book Fair runs May 23 to 26. Visit for detailed information.

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