From Iceland — The Decade Of Fine Arts

The Decade Of Fine Arts

Published January 7, 2011

Ásmundur Ásmundsson looks back on ten years of art

The Decade Of Fine Arts
Photo by
Julia Staples

Ásmundur Ásmundsson looks back on ten years of art

I am deeply honoured to have the opportunity to write for Reykjavík Grapevine. Not only because I am a great fan of rock and roll (and pop) music, but also because I value foreigners. I am of course not talking about guest workers from Eastern Europe, whom I also value and have great respect for as a group. No, I am talking about you, dear reader, and perhaps your friends, if my intent to do a good job pans out nicely. You have a big role to play in the future of this great nation. It is my duty to write a favourable article about the Icelandic art scene and I will do it for you, since we are depending on your moral support, and I will do it for the rest of us, because we need it.

To capture a candid and attractive gaze at the last decade of fine arts is a difficult chore. Not only because time is short and money is scarce, but because fine art is so huge and what happened before the total crash seems decades ago. I have faint memories of openings and parties, some in the company of good-looking celebrities (Ólafur Elíasson, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Mr. and Mrs. Barney, Baroness Francesca von Hapsburg and Christoph Schlingensief (bless his soul)) and their local counterparts, but others in the company of wolves (could that be?). Luckily I was living abroad during the height of the great boom, so I missed out on most of the ordeal of the holy matrimony between art and business and the hideous exhibitions it fashioned, but I heard some rumours—none worth mentioning in a respectable publication like ours.

I could try to remember a few important exhibitions and ponder on their significance, but smiling faces keep interrupting. I do have fond memories of Safn, a private art collection that was briefly open to the public in the beginning of the decade, but I might be the only one. The owner of the private collection, Mister Pétur Arason, was given one hundred million krónur from the City of Reykjavík. But who cares now? Today it is like Safn never existed, and that’s how we want it. In the context of total economic collapse it is a corruption scandal on a miniature scale (like the collection, actually!).

As a matter of fact, the whole decade will surely be completely forgotten in a few years, with few exceptions, and those are not exceptional because of their artistic value, but because they are on permanent display, blocking our view. I am of course talking about the Satanic monument of Viðey: Imagine Peace Tower by Yoko Ono, and the glass façade of Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre which covers the entire building and was designed by renowned visual artist Ólafur Elíasson in collaboration with the Danish architects of the building. The latter is a civil engineering scandal in the making, and it involves the Chinese and incompetent local civil engineers. The frontage has been built and torn down again at least twice (by the Chinese) and only God knows how it will end. But it can’t be a happy ending. You just watch!

Now I must calm down; it was never my intention to let too much reality take over this piece of writing, since I am writing this as service to my country—an image must be kept alive. The more I think about it the more I am convinced that this image is first and foremost directed at the locals hanging in there, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

I must take a deep breath and deliver what I promised: a favourable article, an attractive gaze. If I had a stack of old Grapevines I could simply leaf through them and quote the talented and free spirited artists on the pages, particularly the multi-talented ones, the ones with one foot in pop and/or rock and/or fashion. I don’t have that stack in front of me, but with an imaginary stack I can easily make a list of top five artists: Gabríela Friðriksdóttir, Ragnar Kjartansson, Haraldur Jónsson, Egill Sæbjörnsson, Hrafnkell Sigurðsson and the Icelandic Love Corporation (actually six). I think that list is as good as any, but I don’t have these artists’ imagination to make profound or funny quotes coming out of their mouth off the pages of Reykjavík Grapevine. They do come highly recommended and have made an important mark on the Reykjavík Art scene. Thank you.

Thank God this nation has progressed in a linear fashion since day one, but not in a cyclic eternal spiral shape of the second and the third world. Therefore we can easily assume that the best of the decade did in fact take place in the year 2010. And the best is yet to come; 2011 will be the pinnacle of our culture. Thus my remembrance is not as important as an uninformed reader might think. The unaware reader might also say to himself or to his girlfriend that this article was scantily researched and consequently poorly written. To those people, we, the people of the Grapevine simply say: Don’t be ignorant! We firmly oppose the notion that history repeats itself, even if we find communism’s favourite joke “first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” to be utterly hilarious.

We do believe in progress, at least when it comes to culture and fine arts. There are three art exhibitions, or should I say events that wrap up the decade in a peaceful an unrestricted way. The funny thing is that they are all from the latter half of 2010 and I didn’t see any of them and that is what makes this article unusual.

‘Koddu’ in Listasafn Árnesinga, Hveragerði, a group exhibition of some of the most prominent Icelandic artists (two are on the aforementioned Grapevine top five list). The word “koddu” means an inviting “come along” in Ice- landic; it has a soft and cuddly sound to it. The exhibition, which drew its title from the great tourism campaign “Inspired by Iceland,” was planned to be put up at the Listasafn Árnesinga, Hveragerði but was censored out of the museum on the grounds of visual material, text and methodology. Both the catalogue and the majority of the exhibition material are ready for publication and installation, but it remains to be seen if it will ever go up. The exhibition was meant to be “a succinct account of the relations between iconography and ideology in contemporary Iceland; a mapping of contemporary aesthetics of Icelandic cultural politics and addressing the central role of the state, market and academia by canalizing how art is produced, exhibited, seen and used.”

‘Body Parts in Religion’ in Hallgrímskirkja Church, by Hannes Lárusson, is another censored exhibition. The show was shut down two days before its announced opening. When the church administrators and priests saw the invitation card bearing illustrations of various body parts, e.g. a breast, a penis, buttocks, and they eliminated the exhibition. Some of us had been expectantly waiting and preparing for the celebration of this event like a Christian waiting for the Second Coming of Christ, thus the disenchantment was huge. This happened just after the censorship of ‘Koddu’, which was a double disgrace and a step back, especially since the intelligentsia and the art world seemed either anesthetized or perfectly content with these occurrences.

Another example of the pinnacle of the great culture that thrives in our area of sway was a remarkable jamboree at the oldest hotel in Reykjavik, Hótel Borg. This is not another tragic example of censorship, but a success story of corporate sponsorship, the amalgamation between the stock of the fine arts, the plebs of the fitness centres and the creatures of the night (what a night!). The only tragedy was how few could enjoy the shindig, since it was a one night only event. At least three artists from the Reykjavík Grapevine top five list showed their work in the beautiful suites of the classy old hotel. The wingding was held to celebrate the first coming of Vitamin Water, a vigorous fluid developed by one of the greatest friends of Iceland, 50 Cent. The liquid is produced by the Coca-Cola Company, owner of the trademark Vitamin Water.

Ásmundur Ásmundsson is a visual artist and a writer. Until recently he wrote a biweekly column for Icelandic Financial News. He has written for various publica- tions as well as shown his artwork, in Iceland and abroad. Útúrdúr just published a collection of his speeches: Dear Friends, Collection of Speeches 2000 – 2010.

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