Students Reinvent the Past


Students Reinvent the Past

Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine. Photo courtesy of the Einar Jónsson Museum and the Iceland Academy of the Arts’ Department of Fine Arts.

In my over 50 reviews so far I have never reviewed The Einar Jónsson Museum for two reasons: the collection is permanent and other writers had already written about it in the past.

At least, this is what I had thought before I got an invitation for a group exhibition called Interwined by Master students from the Iceland Academy of the Arts’ Department of Fine Arts.

This was a special occasion I could not ignore, because the course started in the autumn of 2012. The eight participants (plus one exchange student from Denmark) are mostly Icelandic, except for one regular student from Norway.

Course supervisor Ólafur Sveinn Gíslason said in an interview with that there is increased interest in the course from abroad. The intention is to keep the group small, between 16 and 20 people.

I did not know what to expect. None of the students’ names are familiar to me. I was pleasantly surprised that the exhibited works are site-specific. They seamlessly blend into the environment and are inspired by the art and home of the sculptor Einar Jónsson (1874 – 1954). I am not saying that every group exhibition of students has to be site-specific, but in the case of Interwined, as a viewer, I cared very little about names, but I left satisfied by the total experience of seeing a successful experiment in blending works of new and old art, created by nine different creative minds.

By comparison, I went to see Pastís 11/11 (until May 12, 2013) at the National Gallery of Iceland. It is a versatile exhibition, where 11 students of the new Master’s in Art History from the University of Iceland curate the works of 11 known and very different artists.

I found the experience of seeing Pastís 11/11 very disorienting without any apparent unifying concept. It seems that every curator was busy curating their own corner, while failing to work together as a team.

To the best of my knowledge (I might be wrong), this is the first time 21st century art enters the home, studio and museum of Einar Jónsson, although I have seen and enjoyed such refreshing experiments at the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum in the past, such as the exhibition Rhyme in April 2010 (click here to read my review).

You cannot mistake the building of The Einar Jónsson Museum (it is right next to Hallgrimskirkja). The gray modernistic rectangular design reminds me of a totalitarian mausoleum. The design of the building reflects Einar’s interest in mystical studies and his belief, that all art forms must “incorporate something of the nature of other art forms”, as stated in the leaflet of Intertwined.

Unfortunately, the map of the participating works is confusing, but I was lucky to meet the performance artist Kristín Helga Káradóttir who helped me get the names and locations right. I quite enjoyed her simple performance of a living sculpture which freshened up the somber atmosphere of the tight premises with overwhelming statues from Norse mythology.

kristinhelgakaradottirBy Kristín Helga Káradóttir.

Only one of the artworks had a label with the name of the student and the title, Rán Jónsdóttir’s ‘National Pride Generator’ which also helped me navigate through the underground floor as a landmark (at the far left end of the underground floor). Her old-fashioned mobile sculpture stands high on a pedestal, waving the Icelandic flag and playing the national anthem.

ranjonsdottirBy Rán Jónsdóttir.

The inspiration must be from the period of national independence from Denmark, when 20th century Icelandic artists like Einar Jónsson sought to distinguish their artistic identity through typically Icelandic themes, such as the landscape and the sagas.

Personally, perhaps it is the most powerful artwork. It instantly transferred me back in time. I clearly envisioned being in the heated crowd at the peak of public Nazi war propaganda, but at the same time it can refer to the euphoria of the recent parliamentary elections in Iceland, with a hint of mockery.

By comparison, Ragnar Már Nikulásson’s triangular sculpture with mirrored blinking lights (at the staircase) reminded me of a time-machine into the future or a gate to another dimension. His science-inspired art brings into mind a comparison with the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.

ragnarmarnikulassonBy Ragnar Már Nikulásson.

The work which is most literally inspired by the philosophy of Einar Jónsson is an installation by Halldór Ragnarsson (in the deep end of the underground floor), which is a glass grave-stone and decorated by flags with quotes about the role of artists in a Nepalese prayer banner fashion.

halldorragnarssonBy Halldór Ragnarsson.

The artwork which is most remotely inspired by the legacy of Einar Jónsson is called ‘I GO NOW BYE’ by Guðmundur Bragason (in the loft apartment). At first, I couldn’t understand how the ink-written letters of a broken-hearted man relate to the rest. But on second thought, statues are about permanence and inheritance, and mythological heroes often seem inhumanly devoid of weaknesses.

gudmundurbragassonBy Guðmundur Bragasson.

Einar Jónsson was Iceland’s first sculptor, educated in Denmark and Italy. Influenced by German symbolism, he rejected classical tradition. I learned from the website of the museum, that “he emphasized the need for artists to forge their own path and cultivate their originality and imagination instead of following in the footsteps of others“. And indeed, the students did forge their own path from the future into the past!

The exhibition Intertwined runs until May 18, 2013. (Have in mind, that the museum is open only during the weekends during this period, from 2-4 pm).

The Einar Jónsson Museum is located on Eiriksgata, 121 Reykjavík. Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – kremenan (at)

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.

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