Waterfalls in All Their Facets


Waterfalls in All Their Facets

“Archive – Endangered Waters” and “Hypnotized by Iceland” at the National Gallery of Iceland

Review by Nadine Zwiener.

The seminal exhibition “Archive – Endangered Waters” is part of the retrospective on the Icelandic artist Rúrí.


“Archive – Endangered Waters”. Source:

Already created in 2003 for the Venice Biennale, it was exhibited at the National Gallery of Iceland for the first time in 2005, but the topic has not lost any of its relevance.

With 2012 being the European Year for Water, the installation reminds viewers of the importance of the element for all living beings and its scarcity in many places around the world.

The exhibition comprises photographs of 52 endangered Icelandic waterfalls, captured on glass panes that are part of a large metal installation.

When watching the slides, not only do the photos give an impression of each waterfall, but their sound can also be experienced.

While this is an interesting and fascinating way to approach the waterfalls, it is only one way of looking at them. In order to get a more general view on waterfalls in Icelandic art, the second exhibition should be visited as well.

The museum describes “Hypnotized by Iceland” as a frame around the artwork by Rúrí, but this exhibition from the National Gallery’s collection is truly more: a colorful and wide-ranging voyage through the history of the national symbol of waterfalls.

The 20 paintings and two installations are shown on the same floor as Rúrí’s exhibition, just in the opposite room. After viewing her impressive artwork, “Hypnotized by Iceland” seems to lack presence.

The installation “Bride” (1998) by Anna Líndal at least takes up some of the space in the light and enormous room, but the paintings look a bit lost.

Actually, my first impression when entering the room is that someone has randomly picked some pictures that show waterfalls or are related to them and put them together in one room.

The paintings are diverse and do not follow any order, neither by style, nor time, nor artist. Even the paintings by Ásgrímur Jónsson, of which there are quite a few, do not have much in common except for their main subject: waterfalls.

“Ferryman” (1899-1900) by Ásgrímur is, for example, a dark and symbolic artwork, showing the waterfall as part of the symbolic scenery but it’s not the subject itself.

Another of his paintings, “Barnafoss Falls in Borgafjördur” (1904), features the waterfall itself with soft and natural, yet magic colors. It is a calm but impressive picture and I can’t help but being fascinated by this way of regarding the waterfall.

In between these two pictures there is a painting by Törbjörn Zettelholm, “Jokk by Egilsstadir” (1965), which is also fascinating but in a completely different way.

It has the simple clearness of a woodcut, with the waterfall neither being just a part of the scenery nor the main subject of the painting. Still it provides a clear and straight perspective on the falling water.

The most impressive work is also the largest: the huge, expressionistic and colorful “Waterfall by Hvítá River” (1943) by Ásgrímur.

It is the most dominant painting in the room, but not only because of its size, but also because of the attitude of the waterfall that is displayed.

In a perfect expressionistic way of looking at the world, the waterfall demonstrates movement, power and chaos more than anything else. And once again, I feel hypnotized; the painting makes me look at the waterfall.

And I start to get the point of this exhibition.

Maybe the pictures weren’t selected randomly as it seemed at first glance. It is the mixture of styles, timeframes and artists that—at second glance—makes this exhibition so unique: there is no one way to present the natural phenomenon or experience it, as demonstrated in the collection of paintings.

Looking at all the pictures is somehow like looking at a mosaic: each piece is important and beautiful by itself, but you need to step back to see the whole picture. And in this specific case, the whole picture is the waterfall in all its facets, fascinating and diverse.

If you want a custom-made exhibition that takes you by the hand and explains to you exactly what a waterfall is, “Hypnotized by Iceland” should probably not be your first choice.

But if you want to experience the various ways to look at this amazing phenomenon and understand how different not only waterfalls are but also the impression they make on the viewer; if you want to be hypnotized by waterfalls, you should definitely not miss this exhibition.

I, at least, will now look at waterfalls in a completely new way.

“Archive – Endangered Waters” by Rúrí runs until December 31 and “Hypnotized by Iceland” runs until November 4.

Both exhibitions are shown in the National Gallery of Iceland which is located on Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík. More information about the exhibitions and the National Gallery of Iceland can be found on the gallery’s website.

Read more about the retrospective on Rúrí here.

Nadine Zwiener – [email protected]

Nadine Zwiener is a student of politics, sociology and media and communication sciences at the Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf in Germany. Currently, she is working as an intern at Iceland Review Online.

More Reviews