Sunday, January 27, 2008

Icelandic Magic

Today the Reykjavik Art museum had the opening of the Sámal Joensen Mikines exhibition, the most famous artist of Faeroe Islands. (The Faeroe Islands are a group of islands in Northern Europe, between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean). Since I am thinking of writing about this exhibition, I was eager to go. The notion of the President of Iceland opening the exhibit was enticing, so with my friend for moral support we took off.

We arrived at Kjarvalsstaðir about 20 minutes before the official opening and found the crowd big enough to fill the space between the East and West wings of the museum. There were ladies in furs, and elderly gentlemen in suits, there were jeans clad beauties and jeans clad, down to earth, hippie types, there were several kids weaving their ways in the sea of legs. Everybody seems to know each other and greetings and little reunions were popping up here and there.

After about 10 minutes of people watching, I decided to figure out who is who here. By now I don’t feel silly asking questions and stop worrying about what people would think of me, thus I marched straight to the receptionist desk and inquired if she knew a curator of the exhibit and if so could she, please, point him out for me. A young girl, an art student as I later found out, she didn’t know the curator but kindly pointed out the son of the artist for us. We took the opportunity to speak with him. It was his first time in Iceland and he was very proud and satisfied with his father's exhibition, but sometimes felt lost in the midst of the Icelandic language speakers. Familiar feeling. There were so many questions to ask but it was the time for the opening ceremony.

As we stood there listening to the speeches in Icelandic and guessing the general outlines by familiar names, words and geographical locations, I kept wondering how many foreigners were there in the crowd. It was only logical that the Director of the Museum and the President spoke in Icelandic, and sort of logical that there were not any translations, but the fact that the son of the artist was left all alone without anybody translating to him was odd. The funniest part came when the representative of the Faeroe Islands spoke in Faroese. I looked around and saw blank expressions on the people’s faces but the artist’s son was happily nodding in delight.

Finally, the doors to the hall flung open and the crowd flowed inside. I am clearly spoiled by having halls of the museums all by myself during my daytime tours, so it was difficult for me to concentrate there. Plus, by now, people took advantage of free refreshments –the gestures grew wider and wilder.

There was a lot to take in there - the colours varied from somber black to gentle shades of green; the scenes went from whale hunting to a dancing frenzy. As we navigated our way through the crowd I kept wishing that we would find somebody who can explain a little more about the layout of the exhibit. The pictures were not in chronological order and the only visible logic was that one of the rooms was solely devoted to the portraits. I went for the front desk again and it started the unique Icelandic magic – the receptionist brought in the Director of the Museum; after brief introductions, the latter introduced us to the curator and in a minute ….we were having a personal tour of the exhibit.

It doesn’t cease to surprise me how approachable people are here, how open to questions, how ready to share their knowledge. And the best thing – you never know where a simple visit to the gallery or question at the reception desk will lead you.

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