Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine, scan of the brochure courtesy of the museum.
The image on the left is "Módir jörd" (1936) by Ásmundur Sveinsson and the image on the right is "Self-portrait" (2006) by Eyrún Sigurdardóttir.
The reason I am writing about the “Rhyme” exhibition at the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum lies in the past.
I still remember my first encounter with the museum on the day of my arrival in Iceland ten years ago. It was early on a Sunday in October and the city seemed almost dead. Without a map, I took a walk starting on Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping street, following it as far as my feet could take me.
Located close to Hotel Nordica, now the Reykjavík Hilton Hotel, the building which houses the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum was impossible to miss with its snow-white futuristic dome shining from afar: clearly an artsy place but it could also have been a planetarium.
The sunlit modernistic interior was just as impressive as the exterior design, a creation of the talented sculptor in question. However, to be honest, I was drawn back from the museum’s original collection; the folk themes and figurative rendering were too old-fashioned for me.
I come from a post-communistic country where there is a megalomaniac sculpture of the same style on every corner, depicting the glorification of physical labor, fertile Mother Earth and sickeningly many nameless heroes.
Don't get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with heroes. It's a historical heritage and it should be preserved as such, especially in Iceland where there is not an excess of sculptural art.
But let’s admit it: we live in postmodern cynical times where everybody runs away from heavy farm work into the cities and only in male fantasy are mothers in labor breasted divas.
In brief, the collection needed some "sugar and spice" to be updated to our contemporary lifestyle. Therefore, quite subconsciously, I erased the museum from my list of regular gallery visits and haven’t been there in a few years.
A mere coincidence brought me back inside the museum’s premises. My neighborhood’s swimming pool Sundhöllin was closed over the summer, so I went to Laugardalslaugin for a swim, which is in the vicinity of the museum. On the way back I paid a surprise visit to the “Rhyme” exhibition.
To my delight, the curators Ólöf Sigurdardóttir and Sigrídur Melrós Ólafsdóttir had provided the crying need for an upgrade. Contemporary artworks stand beside Sveinsson’s original sculptures, inspired by the same themes as his but reflecting today's viewpoints.
I instantly loved Davíd Örn Halldórsson's graffiti-like wall installation, which colors warm up and refresh the sterile white walls. Eyrún Sigurdardóttir's photographic "Self-portrait" (2006) reminded me of my own experience of giving birth—a more naturalistic female perspective, while Sara Riel's diagrammatic work "Secret" (2008) inside the dome made me aware of the special acoustics there.
I will not enlist all the participating artists and their works because they are many. But one thing is certain: the artworks were suitably chosen and blend so perfectly with the ambience that one might think they were created site-specific. Only the year of creation in brackets indicates otherwise.
I wondered whether Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) himself would have approved of the exhibition, if he were alive today.
Would he have been shocked by Halldórsson's graffiti and repelled by Sigurdardóttir's unidealized self? Would he have hated that our generation is devoid of romantic ideals? Or would he have admired postmodernism’s breaking-down of boundaries?
In the exhibition’s brochure, I read that in the 1960s, Sveinsson experimented with empty space in a more abstract way. In the introduction, it also says that: "Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) realised that art was ever-changing and that changing times shaped artists' attitudes and works."
There is nothing wrong with sugar and spice, especially if they rhyme.
KNF – [email protected]
Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine works at home for the elderly and is a passionate collector of art books, dedicating every spare moment to learn more about art while dreaming about having an exhibition of her own. She studied graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in Akureyri from 1999 to 2002. In college she realized that she didn’t want to be a designer or commercial artist but rather an illustrator and writer. At the moment she’s experimenting with her first graphic novel.