There is no exhibition like the Venice Bienniale. When it last took place, in 2009, some 77 nations put their reputation on the line to present what they considered their most significant new contribution to contemporary art. Additional 100 artists were selected by the bienniale curator to show their work in a vast international exhibition. Invariably, the event sparks an intense debate about the latest trends in art. This is the place to see what is happening, to take stock and compare notes.
Participation in an international art event of this magnitude has many benefits, both for the participating nations and, of course, for the artists themselves. It gives each nation an opportunity to prove its cultural eminence and be recognized among nations. To the artists, it is an opportunity to work on a scale that they rarely have the opportunity to do and to show the outcome to an enormous international community of interested viewers.
Iceland has sent 22 representatives to the Venice Biennale in the last half-a-century. Many of the nation’s most distinguished artists have been called upon, from Ásmundur Sveinsson and Jóhannes Kjarval in 1960 to Ragnar Kjartansson in 2009. The tradition continues, with the artist team of Ólafur Ólafsson and Libia Castro representing Iceland in 2011. With 50 years of Icelandic art at the Venice Biennale, the intention is to review this history and to explore how art has developed in Iceland over this period.
The curator, Laufey Helgadóttir, brings an invaluable experience to this project as a curator of two biennial exhibitions, in 2003 and 2005. These proved to be watershed exhibitions in the history of the Icelandic participation because of the professional standards that Helgadóttir insisted on. Artists had done ambitious projects before but mostly on their own, with little resources and no organizational assistance. Since 2003, the support has been steadily building and the organization has become more sophisticated.
The early exhibitions consisted mostly of paintings, photographs and self contained sculptures, many of which Helgadóttir has been able to track down for the exhibition. With more emphasis on installation based approaches in the last 15 years and, especially, with more resources in the last few years, which has made it possible for artists to realize their visions on a larger scale, the exhibitions in the Icelandic pavilion have become so substantial that it is only possible to show them at Kjarvalsstadir through video and photographic documents. I thank the artists for their efforts to make this possible. Many thanks also to the individuals and institutions that have loaned works for the exhibition.
Hafthor Yngvason Print
Director of the Reykjavík Art Museum