The light of day – Magma works at Safn, Berlin
14.03 – 26.07 2014 Safn Levetzowstraße 16, Berlin Opening hours: Fri. and Sat. 13-17 (and by appointment)
Located in Berlin’s Hansaviertel lies Safn; a recently opened exhibition-space that displays artworks from the private art collection of former salesman and store-owner Pétur Arason and artist Ragna Róbertsdóttir. Safn is also to be found in Bergstaðastræti in downtown Reykjavík but Arason and Róbertsdóttir are based in both cities. They started collecting art in the 1970’s and put emphasis on collecting contemporary art by Icelandic as well as international artists. Today the couple’s collection is the largest private art collection in Iceland and among artworks in their collection are works by leading figures of minimalism and conceptual art. Artists in their collection include Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Lawrence Weiner, On Kawara, Ilya Kabakov, Roni Horn, Sarah Lucas, Hreinn Friðfinnsson, Sigurður Guðmundsson and Kristján Guðmundsson.
Alongside their passion for collecting, Arason and Róbertsdóttir developed an interest in mediating art and since the late 1980’s the couple has run various exhibition spaces in Reykjavík and now, Berlin. For a few years Arason ran Gallery Krókur (Gallery Hook/Corner) in his clothing-store on Laugavegur 37 where Icelandic contemporary artists put up exhibitions in one corner of the shop. From 1992-1997 Arason and Róbertsdóttir turned their home (also on Laugavegur 37) into an exhibition space called Önnur hæð (Second Floor) where they invited international artists to come and exhibit. From 2003-2007 they collaborated with the city of Reykjavík to turn the entire house on Laugavegur 37 into a contemporary art museum, Safn, where they exhibited new works by contemporary artists as well as displaying works from their private collection. The idea with the new space in Berlin is to make their collection accessible to a broader audience and to create a platform for Icelandic art to be exhibited on an international scale.
The exhibition now on show in Berlin is titled The Light of Day – Magma Works and is curated by Katharina Wendler. On display are works by Lawrence Weiner and Ragna Róbertsdóttir as well as one piece by Richard Long. The artworks in the exhibition all have a connection to Iceland and Icelandic nature; they are either made from Icelandic natural materials or refer to nature in another way. Róbertsdóttir uses lava from the volcano Hekla in several of her works and Richard Long’s piece, “Sea Lava Circle”, consists of 24 sea-washed lava stones collected on the southern coast of Iceland when Long visited the country in 1988. Long and Weiner have both come to Iceland several times and they both put up exhibitions in Róbertsdóttir and Arason’s Second Floor on Laugavegur; Long in 1995 and Weiner in 1996.”The light of day” in the exhibition’s title refers to a text piece by Weiner [The light of day (such as it is) & Iceland spar (as close as pure) to form colors (on the surface of the earth)] which he exhibited there and Long’s “Sea Lava Circle” was on show at the Living Art Museum in 1988 in an exhibition curated by Arason with works by Long, Donald Judd and Kristján Guðmundsson.
The curator Katharina Wendler explains that “the very first exhibition, the opening show, was meant to introduce both the collection and our new space to the international art scene of Berlin. It was important to me to highlight the origin of the collection, therefore the theme is strongly Iceland-related. At the same time the show was supposed to show the overall character of the collection, its conceptual and minimalistic approach, therefore it turned out quite minimal and clean.” Asked about her choice of artists for the exhibition and the focus on lava, Wendler says that “Ragna and Lawrence are contemporaries who have known each other for a long time. Although they work with completely different media, all works in the exhibition are connected through the material of lava/magma, which is described in Lawrence’s text works and transformed in Ragna’s sculptures. Both artists strongly express their relationship with the material and the Icelandic landscape and do so in a minimalistic and conceptual way. By combining the two of them, their works are put in dialogue which results in an interesting tension between the physical absence of lava/magma in Lawrence’s text pieces and the strong physical presence of the rock in Ragna’s lava pieces.The Light of Day – Magma Works is a two-person show but there was one particular work by Richard Long which I really wanted to be there as well. His “Sea Lava Circle” fits so precisely into the overall exhibition theme that I decided to include it in the exhibition. But it is not really part of the exhibition that goes on in the main room; it comfortably sits in its own little room in the back of the space – and creates a whole new energy and feeling in this separate room, so that the viewer can really spend some time there in the back. I think Richard’s work enriches the overall viewing experience of the show.”
Arason and Róbertsdóttir have always put great emphasis on exhibiting Icelandic art in an international context and Wendler agrees that it is important to bring Icelandic art to Berlin and juxtapose it with works by international artists. “It is important, and it is also wonderful for us Germans to have it brought to us. Safn is, after all, a notable collection with fantastic art works that deserves to be shown and seen, and Berlin is just the right place to do that. Many Icelandic artists are for some reasons lesser known than their American and European colleagues, and one aim of Safn in Berlin is to provide a space and a platform for these artists to be shown. It is also interesting to combine well-known internationals with lesser known Icelanders (that are most often superstars in their home country). In doing so, it becomes visible how Icelandic artists have followed art history closely and have also been pioneers in many fields. The combination of Icelandic artists and international artists also shows, how closely related many works are, even though they were made with a big geographical distance. Last but not least did most of the artists that are represented in the collection travel to Iceland and were in one way or another inspired by it. It is our aim to show that Iceland is a meaningful destination for artists and other art professionals.”
The light of day – Magma works runs until the end of July and Safn will be closed in August. Two exhibitions will be put up a year, each running for five months, focusing on 1-2 artists rather than larger group shows. The next exhibition, opening on September 11, will present works by Icelandic artist Kristján Guðmundsson, featuring many of his early works, including graphite works and drawings, all from the collection of Arason and Róbertsdóttir.