Our Icelandic friends near the Arctic Circle boast phenomenal landscapes—and, unsurprisingly, many wonderful artists. With volcanoes, crags, and craters, how could they not be eager to explore the realms of sculpture? How could an Icelander resist picking up a camera, or paintbrush, with curtains of light streaking across the sky, and the river water breathing its hypnotizing blue? Yes, Iceland is an artist’s dream. Organized by the National Gallery Of Iceland, From Another Shore was an eclectic collection of work by Icelandic artists displayed at Manhattan’s Scandinavia House. Of course, there’s no arguing that Olafur Eliasson is Iceland's man of the hour. Boasting one of New York’s most highly anticipated exhibitions, Eliasson’s waterfalls have provided our island with its unnatural “natural” wonders. However, Eliasson’s contribution to elemental sculpture is by no means the only media this Icelander has explored. As the exhibition proved, Eliasson artistic interests are wide, with a keen eye for wowing the audience.
Eliasson’s Green River Series features 12 C-Print photographs, each more arresting than the next. The river, photographed from twelve angles, shows a white sky and water that is nuclear green. Out of context, this could be a striking add campaign against pollution. In Iceland, however, the water’s emerald quality is a natural phenomenon caused by volcanic minerals, not by radioactive waste. Thousands flock to Iceland yearly to experience the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s natural hot springs, or to tour the countryside for a glimpse at these strange waters. I can vouch that after casting your sights on mineral waters, or sinking your feet into one of the many pools, you may never think of water the same way.
Eager to locate the work on the exhibit’s press card, I walked towards a floor display of angry, beautifully crafted crows. The installation by The Icelandic Love Corporation entitled Hreiour/Nest, features black birds with silver-detailed feathers crowding a nest made of tire and filled with licorice-like material. Tangled in the nest are strings of lavish pearls, ornamental earrings, and the occasional feather. The fierce creatures look unfazed by the beautifully painted eggs scattered around the nest, seemingly unprotected.
One of my favorite pieces was Eggert Petursson's Untitled, an oil painting of a field of flowers. The color is dimmed, characteristic and true of Icelandic light, which is steely even on its brightest mornings. Though by no means a novel subject, it is astounding in its painstaking rendering of cluttered and windswept blossoms on stems. It looks etched rather than painted by a hair thin brush. True, it seemed a little out of place next to the dry ice volcano sculptures, but beautiful nonetheless.
Olga bergmann's piece in the exhibit was a sculpture of a circular park in which a giant rock, suspended above the sculpture by a wire, had either mysteriously levitated, or fallen from the sky. Either way, the tiny sculpture people appeared to be startled by this strange manifestation. The ambiguity of the piece made it a wonderful example of Icelandic art’s conceptual playfulness, at once challenging and stimulating the audience.
Pushing aside a heavy black curtain, I found myself a part of yet another one of Eliasson creations, a light show entitled Limbo Lamp For Petur. Alone in a small room, I was surrounded by colorful light circles caused by effect filters mounted with a spotlight. The result was that of an unpredictable light show as the filters, suspended from the ceiling near the spotlight, caused the circles to expand and retract. As the circles increased, so did the feeling of being swallowed by a ring of light. A mesmerizing piece.
Strangest of all the works featured in From Another Shore was the installation by Olof Nordal, entitled Cockney. The room, washed in a pink light, simultaneously projected what looked to be the inside of the womb, and the X-rated edits from a film. It was jarring, confusing, and downright creepy. If that wasn't enough, the room was also filled with light pink beanbag chairs, with attachments that seemed to suggest tongues and breasts. Needless to say, after a minute or two, I humbly exited.
Wandering the halls of the Scandinavia House’s small, empty gallery, I couldn’t help but feel like a part of something unspeakably fresh. A born and raised New Yorker, I have frequented over a decade’s worth of museums with varying enthusiasm and delight. I often leave with a mood, or suggestion, of the nature of an exhibit—the more thought provoking, the better. Of course, there’s no arguing that Icelandic art belongs in the MOMA, and not the Frick. In true Icelandic fashion, it is uniquely modern with ingenious installations, all traceably inspired by some aspect of Iceland’s natural wonders.