There are plenty of routes to get familiar with a city’s cultural scene, but some are easier than others. Easy: talk to locals. Hard: learn Icelandic. Easy: read the Grapevine. Hard: plow your way through the OG fad series, the Icelandic sagas. Easy: visit a gallery. Or two, or ten. Because while there’s no nine-million-visitors-a-year “Louvre de Reykjavík,” there’s a thriving and resurgent small gallery scene in this city. From international eye-catchers like Ólafur Eliasson to graduate artists fresh out of Lístaháskóli, showing everywhere from a window display to grandma’s basement, art in Reykjavík spans many weird and wonderful forms in spaces that you couldn’t dream up.
There basically is no “small gallery guide” without i8. This space introduced the idea of independent galleries way back in 1995, when Börkur Arnarsson and his mother, Edda Jónsdóttir, opened their original space at Ingólfsstræti 8 (hence the name). “It was clear from the start that this was not a gallery that would collect proposals, but would show whatever it wanted,” Börkur told the Grapevine back in 2015. Today, i8 represents a group of 22 worldly and renowned artists, including Ólafur Eliasson and Ragnar Kjartansson: the Björks of Icelandic art, basically.
New contender BERG is amongst the best of the new crop. In spring 2016 Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir, the gallery director, opened up the gallery “as a place for museum-quality exhibitions,” with a focus on video and multimedia installations. It’s movement without chaos—a spacious white cube with black lines spilling off its walls and onto the floors.
While i8 and BERG make up one thread of the small gallery scene, Ekkisens weaves an entirely different yarn. This artist-run gallery and project space offers a platform for recently graduated and emerging Icelandic artists. It’s full of personality, located in the basement apartment of the gallery director’s late grandmother—quite literally at the grassroots.
Harbinger Project Space
Harbinger is another spot that gets its kicks from the emerging and interactive. For example, for their last show of 2016, “Print and Friends,” two artists turned the front room of the space into a functioning printmaking studio, where artists and the public were welcomed to make prints of their own design. Behind the studio-gallery-project space, in what used to be a storage room, is the recently opened “Books in the Back” library—one of Reykjavík’s best destinations to check out art books and catalogues.
Wind and Weather Window Gallery
The Wind and Weather Window Gallery is exactly what its title implies—a window. And a gallery. Kathy Clark, the owner and creative force behind the gallery (literally, again—her personal studio is located behind the window gallery), built the small space in 2013 to house local artists and site-specific installations. The window transforms every two months and looks out onto Hverfisgata, so you can see it day and night.
While the Window Gallery is very easy to see, Gallery Port is equally easy to miss. The corridor that leads you back into Port is practically platform nine-and-three-quarters, sandwiched just barely between bright blue Macland and one of Laugavegur’s six hundred clothing shops. But this small space has a generous spirit, hosting artists of all trades—from street art to sculpture—and is equally known for throwing raging opening parties.
Big sign, small gallery. Hverfisgallerí opened in 2013 and currently represents fifteen established artists whose names all end in “dóttir” and “son,” focussing mostly on wall-based work and sculpture. While most artists and gallery owners will deny there is a specifically “Icelandic art,” this is a great place to get a taste of what it would be if there was.
Listastofan is going to drag you just off the main drag, but it’s worth the walk to the border between the 101 and 107 postcodes. This venue is a non-profit space that hosts independent artists in a shared gallery, studio and darkroom. Besides exhibitions, Listastofan also hosts workshops covering anything from theatre to technical camera skills, and a monthly life drawing session.
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