Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine. Photos courtesy of Reykjavík Art Museum.
As part of the 2010 Reykjavík Arts Festival, I reviewed the exhibition: “Alternative Eye – Selected photographic works from the collection of Pétur Arason and Ragna Róbertsdóttir” at Kjarvalsstaðir in my article "In Memoriam of a Gallery". There, I explained who those collectors are and what their former gallery Safn on Laugarvegur 37 used to be like.
As a former employee of Safn, it is not a coincidence that Birta Guðjónsdóttir is the curator for both the above-mentioned exhibition and the current one running at the Reykjavík Art Museum – Hafnarhús: "Faster and Slower Lines – From the Collection of Pétur Arason and Ragna Róbertsdóttir".
The difference is that the focus of “Alternative Eye" was photographs, while "Faster and Slower Lines" explores the meaning of drawings in the form of two- and three- dimensional works by well-known Icelandic and foreign artists (click here for full list of participants).
"Tweërlei afloop"/"Different Outcome" (1968-1978) by Pieter Holstein.
The title "Faster and Slower Lines" is inspired by an artwork by Kristján Guðmundsson from 1976, which is also included in the exhibition. All works were made in the period 1951-2011.
Why drawings? The introductory text to the exhibition gives the perfect answer:
"Since ancient times man has drawn a line. A line is drawn in the sand, onto skin, onto soft cave walls. The line is marked by a finger, smoke, plants, animal hairs, coals, graphite, ink and blades, for different reasons and attitudes towards the meaning of the action and the drawing itself."
"Faster and Slower Lines" is located in the C area on the museum’s second floor above the reception desk and is comprised of two corridors and three halls.
The diversity of works, themes and artists is overwhelming. It took me three hours to take detailed notes, of which I could use no more than 20 percent in writing this article.
Except for the two general explanatory texts about the collection on the walls at the entrance of the C area, there was neither an English text accompanying the individual works nor a catalogue available.
Perhaps you would easily recognize the international stars of the show: Dieter Roth (CH, 1930-1998), Roni Horn (US, 1955), Marina Abramovic (RS, 1956), Huang Yan (CN, 1966) and Hamish Fulton (UK, 1946), among others.
Even though most of the Icelandic artists are well-known in their country and abroad, such as Hörður Ágústsson (1922-2005), Sigurður Guðmundsson (1942), Hreinn Friðfinnsson (1943), Birgir Andérsson (1955-2007), Steingrímur Eyfjörð (1954), Helgi Þorgils Friðjónsson (1953), it would have been useful to have some explanations in English next to the works about their creators’ importance to the local art scene.
This particularly applies to the younger but equally interesting artists, like Helgi Þórsson (1975) and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson (1974).
Whether you prefer conceptual monochromatic abstract or colorful expressive figurative works, there is something for everyone’s taste at the exhibition.
Two examples of these opposites can be found in the first small hall to the right of the staircase: Alan Johnston’s (UK, 1949) austere contrasting canvasses of plain black-and-white paint and wood, which were inspired by architecture and Japan, versus Hreinn Friðfinnsson’s lyrical subtle compositions of usual objects in unusual light.
Untitled (2007) by Hreinn Friðfinnsson.
Friðfinnsson’s untitled two-dimensional work of winged reflections in light and shadow (2007) triggered a blissful smile on my face from the myriad of butterflies' oscillations in my stomach. I instantly fell in love with this work.
Personally, my interest is inclined towards drawings closest to traditional book art illustration, especially with a sense of unpretentious naivety, clear black outline and impeccable sense of color harmony.
The best collection of such works is in the half-hidden middle hall, the smallest of the three, which is not directly connected to the previous hall.
(NB. You must return to the entrance of the first hall to be able to access the door of the adjoining middle hall. If you depart from the exit of hall one, you walk directly into the third and biggest hall, which faces the staircase. All three halls are accessible from the side of the staircase).
There, in complete oblivion of time, I contemplated over each piece of work and artist in a semi-trance. I scrutinized the three adventurous nightmare-like works with heavy black shadows from 2005 by the young German artist Tilo Baumgärtel (1972), an exponent of the "New Leipzig School".
The wall of 19 works by the Dutch artist Pieter Holstein (1934), done in the period of 1968-1978, inspired by children’s books from the 1960s, provoked no less delight.
Their economy of line and color reminded me of the carbon-traced fantasy compositions of the Chicago artist Henry Darger (1892-1973), which are not included in this exhibition.
Untitled (1981) by Helgi Þorgils Friðjónsson.
In particular, I enjoyed the 62 drawings from 1980-1984 by Helgi Þorgils Friðjónsson, where his early fascination with the symbols of naked male bodies (with their genitals exposed), animals (in this case, dogs) and wings (angels here, but lately birds) can also be found in his latest oil paintings, but I rather prefer those earlier inconspicuously delicate drawings.
If you are in doubt whether this exhibition is your cup of tea, I guarantee you that your kid will love it. Inspired by Huang Yan’s "Chinese Landscape Tattoo" (1999), my daughter wrote words and drew images of hearts and cats with a marker on my body.
Nurture the artist in your child and the child in yourself.
The exhibition "Faster and Slower Lines – From the Collection of Pétur Arason and Ragna Róbertsdóttir" runs until January 1, 2012.
Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – kremenan (at) gmail.com
Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine 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.