CENTER FOR VISUAL ARTS IN AKUREYRI
The Center for Visual Arts was launched in January 2012 when The Akureyri Art Museum and The Akureyri Cultural Center were merged together. The Center is divided into three distinctly separate venues: The Akureyri Art Museum and the multipurpose facilities of Ketilhús (Kettle House) and Deiglan (Melting Pot), which are all located on the same street in the heart of Akureyri, affectionally known as Listagilið (Art Canyon). The Museum opened its galleries on August 29th 1993 and is the oldest of those three establishments. For the past two decades it has been the flagship of the Art Canyon and has played a prominent role in the cultural life of Akureyri as the first institution outside the capital of Reykjavík to concentrate solely on visual arts.
With a dual mission of promoting art for the local community as well as within the wider national and even global context, the Museum’s dynamic approach has fostered both knowledge and appreciation of the arts in Iceland and has created a platform for cutting-edge, contemporary artists and curators to promulgate their visions. Amongst notable names that have graced the galleries over the years are Matthew Barney, Spencer Tunick, Per Kirkeby, Andrew Serrano, the Boyle Family, Rosemary Trockel, Orlan, Bill Viola and Santiago Sierra, to name but a few. Exhibitions within the past decade have also featured some of the great masters, such as Rembrandt, Goya and Henri Cartier-Bresson. In addition to art from Europe and America, the Museum has drawn on artists and traditions from such varied cultures as Russia and India, Japan and Jordan, without loosing sight of the local art scene and major Icelandic figures.
In 2006 the Museum instigated the Icelandic Visual Arts Awards (IVAA) to draw more attention to the importance of art and design and celebrate individual achievements. Artists are nominated for the awards by a panel of judges presenting the main institutional bodies within the profession, including The Icelandic Academy of the Arts, The Association of Icelandic Artists and The Art Theoretical Society of Iceland. Until 2008 IVAA was held on a yearly bases, but as of 2012 it has become a triennial.
Rather surprisingly, the idea of founding an art museum in Akureyri first appered in a news paper article by Jónas Jónsson in the mid-1960s, an influential and highly controversial politician who was anything but a staunch supporter of the avant-garde during his haydays as the Minister of Culture and Education. Almost three decades past until his dream became a reality on August 28th 1993, to coincide with the township’s anniversary. Disregarding the bucolic academicism recommended by Mr. Jónsson and his conservative views on art, the Museum turned out to be a bastion for contemporary art and the most progressive movements in the country right from the beginning. The building housing the museum was originally erected to serve as a Co-operative Dairy factory in 1939 and reflects strong influence from the Bauhaus school and the international Funkis-movement. In keeping with the German and Scandinavian kunsthalle model, the Museum focuses mainly on mounting exhibitions and creating projects in collaboration with artists, galleries and institutions, both locally and abroad, rather than collecting works of art.
The Kettle House (Ketilhús) is located east of the Museum building a little further down the avenue. Over the years it has served multiple roles, though primarily as a boiler station for which it was originally intended. The Kettle (hence the name of the building) produced steam for the factories that the Akureyri Dairy Co-op ran in Grófargil during the 1950s. After the factories were moved to Gleráreyrar, on the north-edge of Akureyri, the buildings in Grófargil stood empty and deserted for a long while. In 1991 a grassroots organization, Gilfélagið, was formed to organize and bolster up the ever increasing demand for exhibitions and other cultural events. Through a concerted effort the town-council was eventually persuaded to buy most of the vacant factory buildings in the Art Canyon and designate them to private studios and open platforms for exhibitions
A year later the municipality signed a contract with Gilfélagið to run a space for culture on this busy thoroughfare. However, by 2003 the operation of the Culture Center had grown to such an extent that Gilfélagið was no longer in a position to manage it. The Kettle House underwent an exstensive renovation and was transformed into a multifunctional facility that could cater to as many interests as possible on equal footing, be it an exhibition, theatre play, musical performance, lecture or a convention. To supervise the program a director was appointed by the municipality which funded the operation.
With the inauguration of the ambitious cultural and conference center Hof in August 2010, prominently positioned by the harbor, the purpose of the Kettle House was in dire need of adjustment. The unification of the Art Museum, Kettle House and Deiglan under single management was brought about with the intention of strengthening this unique region as the main hub for visual arts in Akureyri. Despite being more specialized than before, the new Center for Visual Arts adheres to a very open policy in its choice of exhibitions and projects and continues to present a wide range of activities.
The Kettle House still serves as an important space for all kinds of concerts and meetings, although the thrust of its efforts revolves around art and design and related events. Exhibitions in the Kettle House are by invitation only and receive a similar level of service and support reseved for those showing at the Museum. The Deiglan, on the other hand, located accross the street from the Museum, is primarily devoted to young artists, experimentations of every sort and new voices wishing to be heard.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
As adumbrated above, the mission of the Visual Arts Center in Akureyri is to promote, enrich and stimulate the cultural environment in Akureyri by encouraging broad participation from the local community while adhering to a high standard of artistic merit. By showcasing many of the country’s greatest talents and participating energetically in the current discourse, the influences of the Center for Visual Arts reaches well beyond its geographical location. The Center, however, is not concerned with any particular type of art and avoids being trapped by popular trends, but instead endeavours to nurture a very wide, even eclectic, range of art practices.
Through its exhibitions, lectures, publications and educational programs, aimed at the schools as well as the general public, the Center strives to enhance the appreciation for the arts and raise awareness about our surroundings. The content may be of aesthetic, philosophical, political, historical, social or moral nature, but these issues are usually tackled from a miriad of different angels with the intention of stirring up a lively debate. To parahrase Robert Huge’s much acclaimed book, Nothing if not Critical, the Center not only revels in being polemical, it regards it as a duty to go systematically against the grain of commonly accepted notions and has regularly been the subject of heated debates. Provocation for the sake of getting attention is not the name of the game. The main objective is maintaining a healthy balance between a democratic discourse and the ‘shock of the new’ where the participation of the audiance plays a crucial role.
Every year about six exhibitions are mounted in the Museum and eight at the Kettle House, whereas 8-12 events take place in the Deiglan, depending on how strong the fresh winds are blowing. No longer culturally relegated to playing second fiddle to Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik, Akureyri is a fascinating destination in its own right. The Center for Visual Arts is shaping the cultural development of Northern Iceland as experienced by visitors and residents alike, serving as a mirror to a rapidly shrinking world and as a harbinger of things to come.