The history of visual art in Iceland is fairly short as the country’s cultural production was for the longest time predominantly related to literature. The first half of the twentieth century witnessed a surge of artists, strongly connected to the romantic self-reflection of the independence movement. However, Icelandic artists quickly caught up with their international peers with the introduction of the avant-garde in the sixties and seventies. Today, the local art scene is thriving in an international dialogue as local artists exhibit abroad and vice versa, artists from all over the world come to Iceland to create and exhibit their work.
Over the last decade, contemporary art has emerged as a strong element in Icelandic culture together with the boom in music and other creative fields. Iceland’s participation in the Venice Biennial has had increasing international success and Icelandic artists appear ever more frequently in the program of art institutions and events around the world. Recent examples of solo projects are Katrín Sigurðardóttir at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2011, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt in 2011 and Ragnar Kjartansson in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2010. Local art events incorporate cutting edge international artists, such as in the Sequences real time art festival and the Reykjavik Arts Festival. In recent years there has been a steady increase in the publication of catalogues and documentaries on Icelandic art.
Reykjavik and surroundings
Visitors to Reykjavik will quickly get an overview of this city of 170.000 inhabitants and realize that many places of interest to art lovers are within walking distance from each other. Threading the streets and alleys one will come across quirky project spaces, diverse artist run organisations and established galleries that offer an insight into the cutting edge emerging scene. The museums in Reykjavik and surroundings offer exhibitions ranging from art historical revisions to contemporary projects, and there are a few interesting foundations dedicated to the life work of individual artists. The Icelandic Art Center publishes a brochure annually with current addresses of all art related venues.
Communities in the nearby vicinity of Reykjavik like Keflavik, Hafnarfjörður and Hveragerði offer interesting exhibition venues. In the countryside there are also significant local art communities in and around Akureyri in the North and in Seyðisfjörður in the East. International artists like Ólafur Elíasson, Richard Serra, Roni Horn, Yoko Ono and Lawrence Weiner have furthermore created public art works to be found around the island.