From Iceland — Port-Side Celebration

Port-Side Celebration

Published July 5, 2023

Port-Side Celebration
Rex Beckett

Gallery Port turns seven

Jutting out from the facade on one of the busiest parts of Laugavegur, it’s hard to miss Gallery Port. The front and side walls are huge floor-to-ceiling windows through which whatever’s happening inside will catch your eye. Whether it’s irreverent paintings, curious installations, or hyperactive happenings, the gallery’s experimental and exciting exhibitions draw you in. They are now celebrating their seventh anniversary with a massive group exhibition of their colleagues, the artists who have been with them over the years, both dear and distant.

Starting on borrowed time

Experimentation has always been the name of the game for Gallery Port. It all started across the street, in a ramshackle space behind the old Macland store on Laugavegur back in 2016. Old friends and artists Skarphéðinn Bergþórusson and Árni Már Erlingsson were working on an exhibition together, which has never actually seen the light of day. “I guess it will be the final exhibition of Port or something,” says Árni.

“Meanwhile, we got a call from a friend of ours who owned the computer store and he offered us the other small space,” Árni recounts. “He said we could have it for three to five months and then he was going to tear it down. So we just went kind of insane because we thought we only had this short amount of time.” 

In this short time, they threw roughly twenty events ranging from exhibitions to concerts and parties, showcasing young emerging artists of all types. Without any defined curatorial concept, they began by providing emerging artists space and creating excitement around themselves and the art scene. But nothing felt certain. 

“We were always on borrowed time,” says Skarphéðinn. “We only had three to five months, and then we had six months and then maybe one more year, but maybe not. It was always about to be torn down, and because of that, we didn’t fix it up. It was cold and always leaking when it rained, and we stuck it out anyway.”

Friends with (business) benefits

Their tenacity paid off for nearly six years in that space. In November of 2021, they moved just across the street into their current – hopefully permanent – location, giving them a sense of establishment that they previously lacked. 

“It’s warmer, it’s bigger, it’s brighter, it’s probably better health wise,” Skarphéðinn muses of their current home, the lease on which they have been guaranteed at least through 2024. 

As the gallery has grown, gained solid ground and a strong reputation for the quality and range of its exhibitions, Árni and Skarphéðinn have faced newer challenges in their shifting roles. 

I’m not sure how to say this without offending anybody, but when you start off, you don’t like every exhibition. Of course today, we still maybe don’t like everything, but we’re always working with more solid artists that we like to work with.

“First and foremost, we are artists and running this place like this for seven years, it needs some business mentality as well, and that’s not that’s not what we are best at,” Árni admits. But thanks to help from their friends with MBAs, they have been resourceful in keeping their ambitious space going strong.

Celebration time

Port is now celebrating seven years of challenges, changes and shifts with a massive month-long exhibition called Kollegar (‘colleagues’), which opens June 3. The show will display works from nearly 40 artists, including established names like Loji Höskuldsson, Korkimon, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, Auður Ómarsdóttir and their erstwhile co-owner Þorvaldur Jónsson, as well as fresher names in Icelandic art like Natka Klimowicz, Julie Sjöfn Gasiglia, Joe Keys and Fía Yang. They will also show the work of the beloved late Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson, aka Prins Póló.

“It’s always just more and more fun for us,” says Árni, of the gallery’s growth. “I’m not sure how to say this without offending anybody, but when you start off, you don’t like every exhibition. Of course today, we still maybe don’t like everything, but we’re always working with more solid artists that we like to work with.”

It’s exciting to imagine how Gallery Port will evolve over the next seven years. Maybe a return to their roots – that old location still hasn’t been torn down.

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