A New Old Art City

Street Art by Guido van Helten in Reykjavík

Art in public places never ceases to surprise and delight me as it did in Reykjavik, Iceland last week. A stroll down the main shopping street exhibits store windows laden with Nordic designed sweaters and blankets. I duck around a corner and run face first into an outdoor wall mural almost cartoonish in its style. I spy another down a different street. Now I am charged, eager to find them all.  Is this tradition versus new culture?

More likely it is an Icelandic artistic underground creeping into the mainstream to proclaim its contemporary idiom. Art has always been a dominant force in this land of visual tensions, where mountains of lava rocks compete with an extraordinarily beautiful yet quixotic landscape. I was in awe to be standing in a place in the countryside where two continents meet. Yet in the bustling city of Reykjavik, a major residential building boom is taking place. As I drive along the shore, I see similar contemporary murals set against stark white apartment buildings as if the structures were designed to be blank canvases for a new breed of artists. In the heart of the city is a new concert hall that flickers a rainbow of colors like the one so often appearing in the sky. It is a subtle pairing of art and architecture. Several fine art museums dot the terrain, many showing the work of Icelandic artists influenced by the unusual aspects of the land, its light and darkness. Far from timid, this is a place where boldness is expected.  For my few krona, It was nice to see art doing what it does best…making a statement. You may not choose it for your living room wall but you can’t deny it is there.

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