The new permanent exhibition Points of View, tracing the history of Icelandic visual art from the Middle Ages to present day, opened in the historic Culture House in Reykjavík on April 18.
By Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos by Páll Stefánsson.
“It’s a modern approach to art, a dialogue across centuries and art forms,” as Margrét Hallgrímsdóttir, director general of the National Museum of Iceland and the Culture House (Safnahúsið in Icelandic) explains. The exhibition includes artifacts and artwork from six major museums: the National Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, National Archives, National and University Library and the Árni Magnússon Institute.
Back to the Roots
“The Culture House was originally built to facilitate these museums in 1909. These institutions, which took their first steps here in this house, are now coming together again. They have their roots here and now the canopy becomes intertwined through the exhibition,” muses Margrét. Designed by Danish architect Johannes Magdahl Nielsen, the Culture House bears witness to the grandeur and optimism of the early 20th century, and the Icelanders’ respect for their history and cultural heritage, Margrét reasons. “The exhibition is based on the story of the preserved building and designed on its terms. This beautiful building elevates the exhibition.”
The exhibition takes place on all four floors of the Culture House. It’s in seven parts: up, down, in, out, again and again, from the cradle to the grave and mirror. “Artwork, archaeological artifacts, letters, documents, manuscripts, items of natural history, album covers… everything is displayed together. There’s no hierarchy, no major or minor work, everything is on the same level,” explains curator Markús Þór Andrésson. “People were thinking about the same things in the 13th century as they are today.”
Voyage through Visual Art
Among items on display is a mysterious cloth from the 17th century, which according to legend was a gift to the magistrate’s wife in Bustarfell, East Iceland, from a hidden woman, whom the magistrate’s wife had assisted while in labor. The cloth was used as the antependium in the church at Hof in Vopnafjörður before ending up in the Culture House. Now it’s displayed part of the viewpoint in a room dedicated to dreams and folk stories.
The room also includes the painting ‘Fateful Moment’ (1987) by Jóhanna Kristín Yngvadóttir of a nightmarish scene; a woman’s saddle from 1751 with fairytale-like wood carvings; ‘Map of Iceland’ with detailed illustrations of sea monsters designed by Abraham Ortelius in 1590; a video which went viral in 2012, allegedly showing lake monster Lagarfljótsormurinn; and the tusk of a narwhal which beached in Iceland in 1921. “The narwhal tusk was connected with the legend of the unicorn. As that idea is fed, it becomes more than a natural specimen, more than a whale specimen; it becomes part of a culture,” states Markús.
For further information about the exhibition and the artworks on display, take a look at safnahusid.is.