The exhibition space is simple and serene. Its discrete ambiance makes it feel like a peculiar haven, distinctly sans-fashion. But there’s no getting around it: it’s weird for me, Joe Art-Enthusiast, to walk through a zone of thousand-dollar suits to get there.
I wanted to talk with someone about the gallery and there was a door open at one end of the room. Through it I could see more paintings and photographs. But as I peeked in, a woman stood up and closed the door.
I asked her if there was someone I could ask about the gallery. She handed me a pamphlet about the artists, and wordlessly walked away. I get it, I thought. This is not just a gallery. It’s an experience that embodies the inaccessibility of contemporary art! Art in a posh clothing shop that feels exclusive and unavailable…a gallery only for those who can afford it. Yes, just like much of contemporary art itself which can sometimes feel foreign, perplexing and inexplicable. Or perhaps it was just that I don’t speak Icelandic.
I tried to keep this analysis buried as I spoke with the man himself, Sævar Karl, who was kind and friendly, not to mention dapper (who´d have thought?). I tried to subtly suggest that the upmarket shop might make some gallery-goers apprehensive, and they might even be too apprehensive to ask one of the debonair salespeople where the gallery is. “Well, if you never ask questions, you will get nothing,” Sævar says, smiling. I guess there’s no arguing with that.
It is clear that he is a sincere art devotee as he shows me the various paintings and sculptures throughout the shop. There are pieces by just about every well-known Icelandic artist, fit into every vacant space, probably quadrupling what would fit into the actually gallery space. Even the downstairs offices are packed with photographs, sculptures and paintings by Icelandic artists.
The big picture started to become clear. Sustaining a gallery requires quite a financial commitment; Sævar has employed someone full-time to run the gallery, for starters. And galleries that don’t have such stable backing often fail. In fact, since the gallery opened in 1989, Sævar has seen most galleries come and go, but his has been an unwavering presence. And because of his commitment and stability, the shop and associated gallery play a considerable role in the propagation of Icelandic art and is a serious asset to local artists.
As much as I mistrust the idea of a gallery hidden in the no-man’s-land of a shop that sells Prada, it really is a seamless marriage. Artists are in constant need of funding, and this shop has a stately purpose in subsidizing their efforts. Although the shop itself is meant for only few, the gallery is all-embracing. If you don’t mind forging through the aristocratic attire.
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