From Iceland — Playing Around in the Bed of Roses

Playing Around in the Bed of Roses

Published June 19, 2009

Playing Around in the Bed of Roses

“Life isn’t just a game- it’s also a bed of roses…” is an odd title for an exhibition, although when you think of the 1960s it begins to explain the blissful bed of roses imagery. It does appear in one’s mind as a much more dreamier time, fond of its simple aspirations and lethargic dreams.   The Reykjavík Museum of Photography is currently showing a collection of photos depicting the optimistic 60s in Iceland. A revolutionary period in the nation’s history, when the population grew within the cities as locals moved from the countryside to work in industries and gain better salaries. As the manufacturing industry boomed, it subsequently brought about more demand for designing new products, thus bringing more work to the city and birthing the word “Hönnun” – design in Icelandic. Several examples of products designed and manufactured during these times are on display within the exhibition. 
Miss Iceland 
In the 1960s photographs on display, everything seems simple. You either worked hard or looked beautiful. The contrast between Miss Iceland 1959 Sirrý Geirs pictures adjacent to the staff at Linda’s bakery in Akureyri, where Sirrý poses in her lingerie whilst the workers gathered in the cafeteria, look decidedly less glamorous in their American style pinafores and hair nets. Miss Iceland, who moved to America to pursue her career after winning the award, had a series of photographs taken of herself at her Icelandic home in 1965 by photographer Pétur Þorsteinsson. The photos depicted the model turned actress with her small dog as they lay on a big fluffy white shag, reading and relaxing in her home, contributing to the public’s rising fascination with celebrity lifestyles and fame.  In those days, life appeared more clear-cut. Men worked fixing industrial machinery or sat behind a desk whilst the secretary timidly filed papers in the background. Women lounged along winter hides in pinewood summerhouses or smiled ecstatically in the kitchen (even when completely alone) anticipating their husband’s arrival back home. The capitalist heyday, when people were happy to buy and willing to work. 
The exhibition reflects the era when capitalism formed in Iceland, from the marketing influence of the U.S. and its advertisements. The idea that images of women sell household goods, men sell machinery, couples sell clothes and a pretty face can sell just about anything, was embraced the world over. Photographer Óli Páll Kristjánsson, a featured artist of the exhibition, relates this well within several of his pictures, particularly with the sofa bed advertisement wherein a woman proudly grasps a giant cut-out of a 1000 ISK note.   Óli Páll Kristjánsson was infamous for his catalogue photography, capturing the essence of the 60s catalogue pose – which appears cliché in today’s marketing but was new and exciting back then. On display is a series he produced for Hagkaup clothing, with models looking into the distance for a friend, perhaps a ship, shading themselves from the sun with their hand: a classic catalogue pose if there was one. To the viewer, it is clear that there is no sun in the studio or friends passing by. Yet, we believe in this holiday illusion. The odd twist to the work is that although it undoubtedly has American influences, there is still something distinctly Icelandic in the atmosphere.   The curators of the exhibition, Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon and Guðfinna Mjöll Magnúsdóttir, both give lectures at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. Where initially researching the archives, intending to create a 60s inspired design project for their students, they got so engrossed in the euphoric vibes of the photography archive that they felt the need to dedicate a show of what they saw, to contrast the optimistic past with a pessimistic today.  “Life isn’t just a game- it’s also a bed of roses…” will be on display until August 29. For more information on the exhibition, please visit

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!


Show Me More!