If you’re coming to Iceland and don’t have much time, but would like to include a cultural experience in-between nature excursions, I recommend a visit to Safnahúsið, the Culture House, in Reykjavík.
The permanent exhibition Points of View opened there on April 18. Celebrating Icelandic visual art heritage from the Middle Ages to the present day, “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 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.
Among items on display is a mysterious cloth from the 17th century, the origin of which is explained with a folk story:
The sheriff’s wife in Bustarfell, East Iceland, dreamt that she was being led into a boulder inhabited by elves (or hidden people). Inside, a hidden woman was in labor. The sheriff’s wife helped her with the delivery, and to repay her kindness, the hidden woman gave her a skillfully-embroidered golden cloth with inwrought flowers, angels and mythical women. When the sheriff’s wife woke up, the cloth was still there. She treasured it dearly.
The cloth was used as the antependium in the church at Hof in Vopnafjörður before ending up in the Culture House, where it’s displayed in a room dedicated to dreams and folk stories, alongside the painting ‘Fateful Moment’ (1987) by Jóhanna Kristín Yngvadóttir of a nightmarish scene; a woman’s saddle from 1751 with fairytale-like wood carvings and other artworks.
The exhibition takes place on all four floors of the historical building. 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,” states curator Markús Þór Andrésson. “People were thinking about the same things in the 13th century as they are today.”
“It’s about co-operation, dialogue, feeling inspired, realizing the context between a manuscript and a wood carving,” adds Margrét. “Through history, people have always found a channel for creation. The works of unknown craftspeople and famous artists are displayed together.”
For further information about the exhibition and the artworks on display, take a look at safnahusid.is (an English-language version will soon be launched).
Points of View will be covered in more detail in the June-July issue of Iceland Review.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – eyglo(at)icelandreview.com