2009 Posts

Pale Rays of Light

Haraldur Jónsson. From the series “Arctic Fruits”, 1999-2001, photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pale Rays of Light

JÓN PROPPÉ

It’s that time of year again: The darkest days when the sun – if seen at all – barely manages to peek up over the southern horizon to send a few, pale rays of light down on Iceland. Yet this is, traditionally and always, a time of celebration for now the days will start to grow longer, each one a little lighter than the one before, until we can bask in the midnight sun again. Whether this holds as an analogy for the tough times we are experiencing economically remains to be seen but Icelanders are not easily discouraged and we continue to hope for the best.

The coming year will certainly be difficult with cultural institutions taking new budget cuts on top of the ones already imposed last year. Exhibitions and international projects will have to be scaled down and fewer catalogues will be published. On the bright side, though, artist stipends will continue as before and while Icelandic institutions will not have much money to initiate international projects, the favourable exchange rate will make it easier for institutions and individuals from abroad to bring their projects to Iceland.

Yet, even though things might have slowed a bit here at home, Icelandic artists continue their activities abroad, with exhibition projects and performances. In the beginning of the new year we will also be able to cheer Kristján Guðmundsson as the Carnegie Art Award exhibition comes to Iceland – Kristján won first prize. Furthermore, an international conference is planned for the spring to discuss language and art, particularly the issue of how linguistic boundaries affect local production and reception of art. More such projects are planned for the near future and there is strong interest in continuing to strengthen and expand the art scene, despite all difficulties. List – Icelandic Art News – will certainly continue in the new year and we will keep reporting on new developments and projects.


List: Icelandic Art News is published by the Center for Icelandic Art, a cooperative project of Iceland’s museums and artists’ organisations. List is edited by Christian Schoen and Jón Proppé. If you wish not to receive announcements of our new issues – or you want to contact us for any other reason – please send a mail to list@cia.is.

A Year into the Crisis

Ásmundur Ásmundsson, “Into the Firmament”, Installation right before the performance at Momentum Festival, Gallery F15. Photo: LIST

Editorial

A Year into the Crisis

JÓN PROPPÉ

It is now almost a year since Iceland‘s banking system suddenly collapsed and the nation entered a period of economic turmoil not matched since the great depression of the late 1920s. There is no end in sight and despite some hopeful words from leading politicians, most people here in Iceland believe it will take us a while yet to dig ourselves out of the hole. As many had warned, experts and amateurs alike, the incredible economic growth and wealth formation of the last decade proved to be a bubble and it may even turn out that some of the financiers and businessmen were less than honest in their dealings: A special prosecutor’s office has been set up to deal with suspicions of fraud and the now nationalised banks have taken over a large proportion of the country’s biggest companies. These are strange times indeed.

As the situation continues with little change, the effects are felt more and more clearly in everyday life. Icelanders are used to having full employment but now almost one in ten is unemployed or underemployed. A year ago the public debt was negligible; now the government owes more than the entire gross national product. Prices have gone up as a result of the near-collapse of the currency and wages are being cut. Government expenditure, in particular is being drastically reduced and cultural institutions feel the crunch keenly as private sector sponsorship has also evaporated. In the visual arts, museum have had to cut back, cancelling or rescheduling some of the costlier exhibitions planned. The just-opened exhibition by Yositomo Nara in the Reykjavík Art Museum is a welcome exception.

There are cutbacks everywhere. A promising private venue, 101 Project managed by Birta Guðjónsdóttir, closed down. Lesbókin, Iceland’s oldest printed cultural supplement, stopped publication for the summer but has now resumed, though cultural coverage is cut down there as in all the mass media. The Icelandic Visual Arts Awards, run by the town of Akureyri with support from two government ministries, have been cancelled.

Yet, even with all the cuts and losses, there is a lot of art around. One of the most active groups continues to be the artists who run Kling & Bang on a non-profit basis: In addition to mounting ambitious exhibitions in their Reykjavík gallery they participate in international shows. The last few months have seen them in New York, Hamburg and Copenhagen – we have news and images in this issue. Ragnar Kjartansson’s exhibition in the Venice Biennale is attracting attention and 30 000 visitors have come in the first three months to see him painting; by the end of the event he will have been at it for six months running.

All this proves that however the stock market may convulse and the banks teeter, the real capital remains as always the creativity and energy of the people themselves.


List: Icelandic Art News is published by the Center for Icelandic Art, a cooperative project of Iceland’s museums and artists’ organisations. List is edited by Christian Schoen and Jón Proppé. If you wish not to receive announcements of our new issues – or you want to contact us for any other reason – please send a mail to list@cia.is.

Prizes and Press for Icelandic Artists

Ragnar Kjartansson and his model looking out over the Grand Canal in Venice.

Prizes and Press for Icelandic Artists

Although Icelanders are hard-pressed by the economic downturn there is plenty to feel good about in the art field. Ragnar Kjartansson had a great opening in the Icelandic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale where he will spend the next six months in a performance that would test the endurance of any artist: Painting, in front of an audience, the same male model over and over, every day until November. His exhibition, which also includes a video installation shot in the Canadian Rockies, has already generated an astonishing number of articles in the international press, including pre-opening feature articles in Modern Painters, Art in America and the New York Times. This issue of list includes a report on the opening with links to these articles, and an interview with Ragnar, conducted by Shauna Laurel Jones.

Not only the younger generation attracts attention these days as just last month it was announced that veteran artist Kristján Guðmundsson was to be awarded first prize in the Carnegie Art Award. This is the most prestigious art award in the Nordic countries and carries one of the largest monetary awards of any prize in the international art world. The award show will tour the Nordic capital cities and is also to be seen in London, Cannes and Beijing. This issue includes an introduction to Kristján’s work and career.

Here at List we have been working to redesign the site and add capabilities. The first thing readers will notice is that the image galleries now appear on the same page as the relevant article and can be browsed by running the mouse pointer across the thumbnails. For a closer look, simply click the thumbnail. Over the years we have also amassed a great deal of writing on Icelandic art and artists – to say nothing of all the images of artwork – but this information has become harder to access as the number of issues has grown. We have now created a database that can be searched from any page on the site and will bring up a list of results with links to all relevant articles. Currently the database contains issues 1-8 and 20-23, the remaining ones to be added in the next few days. We hope this will make the site much more useful.

As can be seen in the contents column, there are news of Icelandic artists from all over the world and more is to come in the months ahead. Meanwhile, for those visiting Iceland this summer, there is plenty of activity here at home with ambitious exhibitions in the museums and galleries in Reykjavík and around the country.


List: Icelandic Art News is published by the Center for Icelandic Art, a cooperative project of Iceland’s museums and artists’ organisations. List is edited by Christian Schoen and Jón Proppé. If you wish not to receive announcements of our new issues – or you want to contact us for any other reason – please send a mail to list@cia.is.

Economy Collapses, Art Continues to be Made

Riot police guard the Parliment Building in Reykjavík during protests in January 2009.

 

 

 

 

Economy Collapses, Art Continues to be Made

JÓN PROPPÉ

The international media turned its spotlight on Iceland this winter. Unfortunately, they were not here to report on the diverse and exciting art scene, nor for the country’s famed natural wonders, not even for the infamous elves. It was the near economic collapse of the country – or at least its banking system, that brought our tiny nation to the attention of the world. In October, Iceland was reported to be the first casualty of the world-wide recession; many others have followed since. It has certainly been an eventful winter with the collapse of the government, the forming of a new interim government and new elections set to take place later this months. People have certainly felt the crunch: Unemployment is reaching record highs and many have lost savings and investments. However, society continues as long as there are people about and so does art, although we have seen cuts in many sectors, including the funding to museums and artist’s organisations.

Preparations are going well for Iceland’s participation in this year’s Venice Biennale with artist Ragnar Kjartansson and, already in May, the Reykjavík Arts Festival will include several visual arts projects in addition to concerts, theatre and other events. The pace of exhibitions in Reykjavík has barely slackened. Artists are also responding to, and even intervening in, the political and economic situation in various ways and as we hopefully move towards some kind of resolution to the crisis we will undoubtably see more of this new political art.

While the Icelandic banks and the boastful financial sector has proved unable to weather the storm, the art sector is proving more robust and continues to nourish the nation with thoughtful and challenging works and exhibitions. Perhaps that should be a lesson to us all as we set about rebuilding society.


List: Icelandic Art News is published by the Center for Icelandic Art, a cooperative project of Iceland’s museums and artists’ organisations. List is edited by Christian Schoen and Jón Proppé. If you wish not to receive announcements of our new issues – or you want to contact us for any other reason – please send a mail to list@cia.is.