From Iceland — “Is this paper clip art?”

“Is this paper clip art?”

Published June 25, 2004

“Is this paper clip art?”

Upon entering the shop I was surrounded by chunks of lava that you could pick up on your way to the airport. There were abstract landscape paintings that were perfect for someone who is searching for art work to match the colors of their décor. And did I mention that they sell stamps?

The prevalence of artists in this country is something inhabitants are proud of, and rightly so. Placing great significance in expression can only be a sign of a commitment to the most essential, substantial aspects of human existence, and beyond that is a mark of a great, free society. And it can also be something that people do to look desperately cool, the adult equivalent of the teenagers who wear meshy trucker hats and big pilot sunglasses. These undeniable factors guide many Icelanders to create.

This magnificent regard for artists also paves the way for galleries of a type which, though some people’s cup of tea, may strike some patrons as questionable. This is the kind of art work that has prompted many a relative to pipe up at the dinner table, “Yeah but, I mean, who says what’s art? What, is this paper clip art?”

Though there is certainly a consumer for every canvas, one has to be careful in this town. Haphazardly walking into galleries can at times bring you disorientation, feelings of great cynical snobbery or a plastic bag filled with little lava candle-holders.

This is not to discourage anyone from visiting the whole gamut of galleries in Reykjavík. On the contrary, you never know when you’re going to find something that strikes you as a revelation of contemporary design or which completely captures your reverence. And, in the worst case scenario, you can pick up some stamps.

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