Kunstschlager – finally a new kid on the block
Exhibition spaces in Reykjavík are fewer than most of us would wish, so it was with great pleasure that a new venue, Kunstschlager, was welcomed to the scene. Located on Rauðarárstígur 1, a side street at the top end of Laugavegur (Reykjavík’s main shopping street which runs through the centre), the space is a bit off the track from most of the shops, cafés and galleries that are liveliest at the bottom end. Even though it is only a few minutes walk, the crowd and atmosphere of the neighbourhood is different and the availability of plastic viking helmets, soft toy puffins and lava candle holders is significantly scarcer at that end. Kunstchlager’s next door neighbours are the Freemasons and the police. A few steps away you’ll find a barber, a pizza joint and the city’s best Thai restaurant, as well as Skipholt, arguably the only real shopping street left in Reykjavík, where you go to buy photography stuff, instruments, fish, meat, electrical components, silverware, or to play bingo. At this end of town, hipsters and tourists tend to be outnumbered by people taking the bus to go to work and some of the town’s homeless community – no one really goes there for a walk. Not yet at least – we could be just one café or a deli away from that. Maybe it is already starting with the advent of venues like Kunstschlager.
Kunstschlager opened its doors in July, first with an opening event that stretched into a month-long exhibition, and then with an exhibition of a work from the 80s by Steingrímur Eyfjörð. It is an artist-run exhibition space, run by five artists that have their private studios in the basement. The main exhibition space is bright, facing the street, and in a back room, similar in size, they have a bazaar – that is works on view that are explicitly for sale, meeting the need for a venue where the public can buy art from emerging artists, and where artists can earn a tiny bit of cash. I met with three of Kunstschlager’s members: Claudia Hausfeld, Helgi Þórsson and Guðlaug Mía Eyþórsdóttir, and spent an afternoon with them discussing their thoughts and plans over pink marzipan cake. The other two are Steinunn Harðardóttir and Baldvin Einarsson. All but Helgi, who finished his masters from the Netherlands in 2004, graduated from the Fine Arts department of the Iceland Academy of the Arts in the past two years. In the Great Void after finishing art school they all felt the need for a studio and some sense of community. Helgi tells us about when he came back from studying in the Netherlands and KlinK & BanK, an artists’ centre with over a hundred studios and an active exhibition and event schedule, was being run in Reykjavík. “Everyone was so impressed and happy about it and I didn’t really get it, it felt so natural that there be such a place. It wasn’t until it closed down in 2005 that I felt how amazing it had been. It would be really good to have something like that again.”
“We really didn’t want to wait around until someone else would hand us the perfect studio, so we decided to make our own venue,” Guðlaug Mía tells me. They started looking for their own place and found a basement on Rauðarárstígur to rent as a studio. Then they found out that they could all just chip in a bit more and get the upper floor as well, so it was perfect for starting an exhibition space. “You have to rent a studio anyway – pay a bit more and do something!” Claudia suggests. “Exactly, and we were really lucky to find an affordable place,” adds Guðlaug Mía.
It took a while to find a name for it, they told me, but everyone finally liked Kunstschlager. It refers to schlager music, which for clarification is explained as follows on Wikipedia: “Typical schlager tracks are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop tunes. Lyrics typically center on love, relationships and feelings… Musically, schlager bears similarities to styles such as easy listening music.” Kunstschlager, loosely translated as “art hit”, is a new word that they felt could match their ideas for the place.
The five artists really like the idea of letting their own artistic practice and the running of the exhibition space melt together. They’ve put up a bell by the entrance so they can be working in the basement in between visits and still hear when someone comes in. “Having exhibitions running really encourages us to show up at the studio and actually work, yet without feeling like you’re wasting an entire day just invigilating an exhibition,” Helgi explains.
They are still forming their exhibition policy, but all agree that it should be very open. The process of deciding on the exhibitions involves endless meetings and discussions, since it is quite a process to get all five to agree. They are well into planning the coming months and plan to have as many as twelve exhibitions a year. The focus, they tell me, will probably be on young contemporary artists, foreign artists and artists on the peripheries of the art scene, possibly more known for something other than their art. But everyone seems to agree that you just kind of have to start this journey and see where it takes you. The studio and exhibition space turns out to be a nice venue for the five artists to do exactly what they want, which is always a good starting point.
I wouldn’t usually use a radio catchphrase for an art space, but for Kunstschlager it is only appropriate: stay tuned. It will be interesting to follow the quintet, possibly living up to the name and producing art hits.
- Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir