From Iceland — Y Gallery And The Crazy Idea Of Opening An Art Gallery In A Gas Station

Y Gallery And The Crazy Idea Of Opening An Art Gallery In A Gas Station

Published July 2, 2021

Y Gallery And The Crazy Idea Of Opening An Art Gallery In A Gas Station
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick, Leifur Wilberg & Anni Mara

An abandoned Olís gas station in a Hamraborg parking garage has found unexpected new life as Y Gallery. Created by collaborators Sigurður Atli Sigurðsson and Olga Lilja Ólafsdóttir, the space seeks to bring art straight to the public—or to their cars.

Something different

The idea began when Olga and Sigurður were collaborating on a Christmas exhibition at Ásmundarsalur.

“We wanted to do something different—something that would benefit the art scene but also the public,” Sigurður explains. “And also give artists a different way of getting their work out there.”

Olga nods. “At the Christmas exhibition, we felt that the need was definitely there for something like this,” she adds. “People are interested in art but perhaps the availability or accessibility of it has been a problem. People may feel like it’s too frightening to go into galleries. It might seem like a closed universe.”

The two then set out to make something more all-encompassing and open. “We weren’t interested in starting a conventional gallery. Galleries are great [at] what they do, as are museums, but we thought there was space for something different,” Sigurður continues. “So we thought, ‘How could we do this?’ And then we came up with this crazy idea of opening a gallery in a gas station.”

A longtime dream

Sigurður had actually long had his eye on the Hamraborg space, he explains.

“So, in this huge house, there are 220 apartments, retail housing, a gas station and now an art gallery.”

“I thought it was such an amazing place and I visited it from time to time just because of the feel of it, when it was a gas station,” he smiles. “I told Olga that I wasn’t interested in opening a gallery unless we could get this gas station in Hamraborg. And then we figured out it had just closed after 50 years. It was a complete coincidence.”

They subsequently contacted Olís, who thought the idea was fantastic. But the renovations, both explain, were extreme. “It was an abandoned gas station. When I came in, I have to admit I thought, ‘What have we got ourselves into?’” Olga laughs. That said, the vision came together once they removed the film from the windows, revealing large, clear panes of glass. “Then I had the confidence that this would be really nice,” she concludes.

Y Gallery

Photo by Anni Mara.

Y Gallery & the Icelandic cité

The gas station, Sigurður continues, used to be quite a social hub in the area, and now it’s once again serving its purpose in a different form.

“This space actually always reminded me so much of France and in the process of making the gallery, we figured out that the architect who designed Hamraborg, in fact, studied in France in the 60s. Then he returned to Iceland and made this building in 1972,” Sigurður explains. “At the time, French architects were calling all of their houses ‘cité’, which is city in French, and that’s what ‘borg’ means in Icelandic. It’s a symbol for merging all the needs of the modern human being into one house. So in this huge house, there are 220 apartments, retail housing, a gas station and now an art gallery.”

He smiles. “And that works really well with our idea of Y Gallery: to bring art to the public,” he says. “And what better way than to have it in your house?”

Check out Y Gallery at Hamraborg 12 or at their website. Y Gallery is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 14:00 to 18:00.

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