Updated: Aug 10
Iceland is a truly unique place inspiring creativity in all its forms. The thriving contemporary art scene here is fascinating to discover. In such a small country the hub for the arts scene is of course the cultured capital city of Reykjavik. In this article we take a look at the best places to see art in the capital. From independent artist run art galleries to the venerable National Gallery of Iceland. Reykjavik also boasts many outdoor artworks dotted around the city, including the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. There is a lot going on to satisfy culture vultures and art dabblers alike in this progressive city. Here is our guide to the most interesting art galleries in Iceland.
Reykjavík Art Museum
First up has to be the old classic, Reykjavík Art Museum. This museum is in fact three separate art galleries. Each one showcases the work of one or more of the most renowned artists in Iceland. Visitors can buy a one-day ticket that allows access to all three of the galleries. Those under 18 can gain free entry to the exhibits and the galleries are generally open from 10am to 5pm every day. Some opening hours may vary slightly in the winter months, so do double check before visiting.
Reykjavík Art Museum - Kjarvalsstaðir
Jóhannes S. Kjarval is widely considered one of the most influential of the early twentieth century Icelandic artists. This stark modernist gallery is largely dedicated to his work. In his youth Kjarval worked as a fisherman before beginning his training as an artist at the age of 27. He worked in a range of styles but is most noted for his magical landscape paintings of Iceland. Go and see what you think before or after exploring Iceland’s landscapes for yourself.
Reykjavík Art Museum - Ásmundarsafn
This extraordinary building was once the home and studio of artist Asmundur Sveinsson. This renowned sculptor became one of the most established artists in Iceland from a relatively young age. He studied in universities and art schools across Europe and returned to live and work in Iceland in 1929. He designed his own home and studio and donated it, along with many of his sculptures, to the city of Reykjavik after his death in the early 1980s. There is always a permanent collection of his work on display in the main gallery and grounds. Alongside it the gallery shows a changing exhibition of emerging and established Icelandic artists that all have a link back to his work and themes.
Reykjavík Art Museum - Hafnarhús
This is the newest of the three museums and is housed in a former fishing industry warehouse dating back to the 1930s. It is a wonderful building that has been sensitively repurposed as an art gallery. As such it is really architecturally interesting with a unique courtyard space and many large gallery rooms. This site’s permanent collection is dedicated to the work of Erró, one of the most well loved twentieth century Icelandic artists. He specialises in post-modern painting and collage in the Pop Art tradition. Alongside the permanent collection the gallery hosts a changing roster of international artists. These often include practitioners of interactive art and multimedia installations. Alongside this there are performances and concerts regularly held in the space.
This is one of Iceland’s top commercial galleries specialising in visual art with a focus on multimedia installations. A range of artists including both Icelandic and international figures exhibit here. The city centre location makes it easy to pop into while exploring the city.
The Marshall House
This former herring-processing factory in the Grandi harbour area of Reykjavik hosts several contemporary art galleries and performance spaces. These include the Living Art Museum below along with the Kling og Bang collective gallery and the studio and exhibition area of artist Olafur Eliasson.
The Living Art Museum
This gallery was founded as a not-for-profit artist run space to showcase contemporary Icelandic art and to preserve it for posterity. The artists who formed the Living Art Museum on the 19070s felt the Reykjavik Art Museum was not representing the full range of Icelandic art. So they decided to do something about it.
This is one of the most established independent art galleries in Iceland. With a focus on conceptual art the gallery represents both Icelandic and international artists. One of their most renowned Icelandic artists is Ragnar Kjartansson who creates video installations and performance pieces as well as paintings and drawings.
The Museum of Photography
The excellent and extensive Museum of Photography is housed in the same building as the national library in central Reykjavik. Their collection includes literally millions of photographs shot between the late 1800s and the present day. There are archival black and white pictures charting the history of the country, as well as family portraits and advertising shots. The gallery also puts forward the work of contemporary Icelandic photographers for various international prizes. It is a fabulous place to explore the cultural identity of Iceland in visual form.
You might also like to check out our guide to the top cultural and historical museums in Iceland.