Saga. Iceland: Art and Narrative
Location: 5th floor, Gallery of Contemporary Art
From ancient sagas to the novels of Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, literature is probably Iceland’s most important contribution to world culture. The art of storytelling is highly regarded in Iceland. Over 1,000 new releases a year by Icelandic publishing houses attest to this fact, especially when you consider that there are fewer than 300,000 native speakers.
Given these data, it makes sense to focus on narrative art in an exhibition about Iceland. Upon close inspection, many of the pieces appear to possess a dramatic quality similar to that found in Iceland’s literary works. The unpredictability of nature and the extreme living conditions found there have inspired a number of artists to create especially poignant works. In consequence, the structure of the exhibition is based on plot and the concept of dramatic composition.
The historical axis of the exhibition is formed by various views of the Thingvellir National Park by Johann Heinrich Hasselhorst and Jóhannes S. Kjarval. The landscapes create a stage setting to which additions are gradually made; Kjarval’s paintings smoothly transform into works in which new characters and themes appear as a kind of narrative prologue. Contemporary art comprises the largest section of the exhibit. The introduction begins with works by Dieter Roth and ends with present-day art: photos by Kristleifur Björnsson and interactive music applications by the singer Björk. The epilogue is in the form of an installation by Ólafur Elíasson, which comments visually on the crisis recently experienced in Iceland.
Iceland is by no means as isolated as 150 years ago. Nonetheless, its art, when compared to international styles and trends, possesses a remarkable uniqueness. It (and its deepest secrets) are best approached without the preconceptions of doctrine, because “emotions are more precise than the mind”, as one of the participating artists, Sigurdur Gudmundsson, has said.
Björk, Dieter Roth, Erró, Gabríela Fridriksdóttir, Helgi Thorgils Fridjónsson, Johann Heinrich Hasselhorst, Hrafnkell Sigurdsson, Hulda Hákon, Jóhannes S. Kjarval, Kristleifur Björnsson, Ólafur Elíasson, Ólöf Nordal, Ósk Vilhjálmsdóttir & Anna Hallin, Ragnar Kjartansson, Sigurdur Gudmundsson, Steingrímur Eyfjörd and Thórdur Ben Sveinsson
Curators: Norbert Weber and Halldór Björn Runólfsson
Designers: Eve Arpo and Grete Veskiväli
Graphic designer: Külli Kaats
National Gallery of Iceland
The exhibition has been displayed at the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen and at the National Gallery of Iceland.
Estonian Ministry of Culture