março 2009 Posts

A Year into the Crisis

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


A Year into the Crisis


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