From Iceland — “A Gallery Is Nothing More Than The Group Of Artists Represented There”

“A Gallery Is Nothing More Than The Group Of Artists Represented There”

Published May 13, 2014

Larissa Kyzer

While art aficionados and those familiar with the Icelandic art scene may have their own ideas about work that is particularly “i8-like,” Börkur says the gallery’s aesthetic is difficult to define. “We have a diverse programme,” he says, although he admits that there may be some qualities that “i8 art” embodies, or rather, does not. “There aren’t many painters. There aren’t many figurative works. There aren’t very many colourful works. Looking at what we don’t do might narrow the definition.”

Börkur notes that i8 has never set out to represent or define “Icelandic” art. “It’s an Icelandic gallery only by definition because we are here,” he explains. “The programme is not about finding or putting together what represents Icelandic art in the best way. I don’t think we’ve ever thought of it that way. Roughly one third of the artists are not from here and more than half of the Icelandic artists that we work with don’t live here, so it’s a good healthy mix of people from all over. That’s i8, that’s not Icelandic art.”

Indeed, the gallery is consummately international, with its twenty represented artists hailing from, yes, Iceland, but also from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, and the US. “We have a Canadian artist that is based in London. We showed her work in Miami. We sold that work to MoMA in New York and we’re from Iceland,” Börkur elaborates. “That’s a pretty global example. And it’s the same with Ignacio [Uriarte]. He’s a Spanish guy born in Germany to Spanish parents, showing with us, and I sold his work in Mexico,” he explains.

When asked why a Spanish artist might want to be represented by an Icelandic gallery, he’s quick to explain that it’s not quite like that. “They don’t want to be represented by an Icelandic gallery. They want to be represented by i8. I know it sounds extremely arrogant, but we’re not ‘the Icelandic gallery,’” he explains. “We’ve been around, we are in the art fairs—which hundreds of galleries are not—and people think, ‘that’s a bloody good programme, I’d like to be part of it, and the fact that it’s in an odd place, that’s even more exciting.’”

Birgir Andrésson
Born: Westman Islands, Iceland (1955)
Died: Reykjavík, Iceland (2007)

Although Birgir Andrésson died when he was only 52-years-old, he is credited as being one of the most prolific and influential Icelandic artists of his generation. The seeing child of visually-impaired parents, Birgir grew up in a home for the blind and thus, it’s been said, was “particularly attuned to the relationship between language and perception.” Many of his large-scale wall paintings are comprised of only text, such as his portrait series in which the descriptions of missing persons are superimposed on a large colour panel. The serious themes of his work are often still playful. His mocked-up Pantone colour series poke fun at romanticised representations of Icelandic nature, offering up a uniquely Icelandic spectrum of colour: “dark ashen grey,” “inky grey,” “spotted grey,” and “monotony of greyness.” His redrawn postage stamps and flags knitted with natural wool gently subvert nationalistic ideals. Birgir’s work received recognition during his lifetime and has continued to do so since: just a year before his death, the National Gallery of Iceland hosted a major retrospective of his work, and since then, his work has featured in major exhibitions in Copenhagen, New York, Reykjavík and Warsaw. 

Eggert Pétursson
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1956)
Lives and works in: Reykjavík, Iceland

i8’s only represented painter, Eggert Pétursson has dedicated his entire artistic output to capturing the surprising diversity and colour of Icelandic flora in incredible, minute detail. Much like classic pointillist paintings, these richly layered canvases take on an entirely different character depending on how close one stands to them. As Eggert himself has stated, “one can easily get lost in the details.”

Egill Sæbjörnsson 
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1973)
Lives and works in: Berlin, Germany

Elín Hansdóttir
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1980)
Lives and works in: Berlin, Germany

The youngest artist represented by i8, Elín Hansdóttir is an artist who creates landscapes and spaces integrating architectural and auditory elements, as well as optical illusions. While on a Dar Al-Ma’mun Residency grant in Morocco in 2011, she created the site-specific “Mud Brick Spiral” installation, which incorporates full-length mirrors and traditional Berber mud bricks. Most recently, she has shown her work in exhibitions in Copenhagen and Berlin. 

Ernesto Neto
Born: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1964)
Lives and works in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto is renowned for his “biomorphic sculptural environments” or large walk-through installations that adopt and manipulate organic patterns and shapes for viewers to interact with. He was honoured with France’s “Order of Arts and Letters” for his “Léviathan Thot,” which was exhibited at the Panthéon in Paris in 2006. His “Anthropodino,” which incorporated polyamide tulle, carpet, gravel, lava, stone, glass beads, and a variety of spices ranging from cumin and saffron to lavender and chamomile, filled New York City’s Park Avenue Armory in 2009. This year, “the body that carries me,” a special selection of his work created from the late ‘80s to the present, is being exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Hrafnkell Sigurðsson 
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1963)
Lives and works in: Reykjavík, Iceland

Hreinn Friðfinsson 
Born: Dalir, Iceland (1943)
Lives and works in: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A graduate of the Icelandic Academy of Arts and Crafts and a co-founder of Reykjavík’s Gallerí SÚM, Hreinn Friðfinsson was the first artist to be represented by i8. Hreinn’s simple (some say “lyrical”) compositions are made of found objects, primarily in materials that are by nature frail or illusory. His vocabulary, underscored by a delicate sense of humour, considers time, the ephemerality of the moment, metaphysics as well as the duality of all things. His work is exhibited in museums in France, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Sweden, and The Netherlands.

Ignacio Uriarte
Born: Krefeld, Germany (1972)
Lives and works in: Berlin, Germany

Ingólfur Arnarsson 
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1956)
Lives and works in: Reykjavík, Iceland

Janice Kerbel 
Born: Toronto, Canada (1969)
Lives and works in: London, England

Karin Sander 
Born: Bensberg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany (1957)
Lives and works in: Berlin, Germany; Zurich, Switzerland

Kristján Guðmundsson 
Born: Snæfellsnes, Iceland (1941)
Lives and works in: Reykjavík, Iceland

Lawrence Weiner
Born: Bronx, New York, USA (1942)
Lives and works in: New York, USA; Amsterdam, The Netherlands

One of i8’s impressive “old white guys,” Lawrence Weiner is a central figure of the Conceptual Art movement who first gained recognition in the 1960s. His most well-known pieces are text-based wall installations which both focus “on the potential for language to serve as an art form,” as well as underline the basic physical process of creation. This is exemplified through his 1968 piece “ONE QUART GREEN EXTERIOR INDUSTRIAL ENAMEL THROWN ON A BRICK WALL” which is—and reads—exactly that. More recently, major retrospectives of Lawrence’s work have been organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, and the Palazzo Bembo in Venice, Italy. 

Margrét Blöndal
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1970)
Lives and works in: Reykjavík, Iceland

i8’s Margrét Blöndal, works in a variety of media, creating drawings, photographs and three-dimensional works that often engage the idiosyncrasies of a given space. Subtle transformations are an integral component of the work, in which she uses commonplace materials and objects that are rendered useless or even unrecognisable when they are removed from any practical context. The recipient of the Richard Serra Award in 2002 and an Icelandic Art Award in 2006, Margrét’s work is exhibited widely around Europe and the US.

Ólafur Elíasson
Born: Copenhagen, Denmark (1967)
Lives and works in: Copenhagen, Denmark; Berlin, Germany

Danish-Icelandic installation artist Ólafur Elíasson needs no introduction, as his expansive, site-specific and experiential pieces have gained him accolades and acclaim around the world. “The Weather Project” filled the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with a giant sun as well as gathering and ebbing clouds of mist in 2003. In 2008, the Public Art Fund commissioned Ólafur to create four waterfalls around the New York City waterway. He also collaborated with Henning Larsen architects to design the façade of Reykjavík’s Harpa concert hall. 

Ragna Róbertsdóttir 
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1945)
Lives and works in: Reykjavík, Iceland; Berlin, Germany

Ragnar Kjartansson
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1976)
Lives and works in: Reykjavík, Iceland

Wunderkind Ragnar Kjartansson trained as a painter at Iceland’s Academy of the Arts, but has since primarily dedicated his time and talent to performance art, video installation, and music. In 2009, at the age of 33, Ragnar became the youngest artist to represent Iceland at the Venice Biennale, where he presented the five-channel installation “The End,” which was filmed at multiple Rocky Mountain sites in the middle of winter. Most recently, copies of his nine-screen installation “The Visitors,” were bought by such venerable institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Migros Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

Roni Horn 
Born: New York, USA (1955)
Lives and works in: New York; Reykjavík, Iceland

Sigurður Guðmundsson
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1942)
Lives and works in: Iceland and China (Xiamen; Beijing)

Over the course of nearly five decades, Sigurður Guðmundsson has played a founding role in the Icelandic art scene. In 1969, he co-founded Reykjavík’s Gallerí SÚM (with fellow i8 artist Hreinn Friðfinsson), and over the next ten years, he also founded the In-Out Center in Amsterdam and Reykjavík’s Living Art Museum. Not only does Sigurður travel between countries to create his art (he has worked in China, Iceland, Sweden, and The Netherlands), but he also moves between media. One of his most renowned works is the photographic series “Situations,” in which he illustrates an abstract idea or phrase with an equally abstract—and often absurd, or humorous—image. Take, for example, “Question,” a photograph of the young artist with an egg in his mouth, holding a chicken in front of himself. Recently, Sigurður has turned more of his attention to sculpture, using bronze, stone, Chinese lacquerwork, brick and other media. These works are often public installations: his “Shore Piece” is permanently installed along the Reykjavík coastline and his giant granite “Eggs” line the harbour in Djúpivogur, Iceland. 

Þór Vigfússon 
Born: Reykjavík, Iceland (1954)
Lives and works in: Djúpivogur; Reykjavík, Iceland

See also: Icelandic Art, If There Is Such A Thing (our interview with i8 director Börkur Arnarson)

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

Cover Features
The Town That Nature Closed

The Town That Nature Closed


Cover Features
Dettifoss Buried Under Snow

Dettifoss Buried Under Snow


Show Me More!