Hafnarborg: A gift of art and culture to the Icelandic community
By Marie Westerman Roberts
Hafnarborg is a museum and culture centre in Hafnarfjörður, that was eastablished when a resident pharmacist couple donated their home and art collection to the town.
In Hafnarfjörður, which is the third most populated town in Iceland, you will find Hafnarborg – the Hafnarfjörður Centre of Culture and Fine Art. The centre came to be following a special donation to the town made by Sverrir Magnússon and his wife Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir. They themselves had moved into the building, which now houses the museum to run the town’s pharmacy, Hafnarfjarðar Apótek, from 1947 until their retirement. In 1983, the couple generously presented the town with a gift certificate for both the building, built in 1921 and designed by former State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson, and their extensive art collection, including works by noted pioneers of Icelandic art.
Today, the mission of Hafnarborg is to maintain dynamic and ambitious cultural functions and foster diverse cultural life in the idyllic town, just south of Reykjavík. The centre also preserves the town’s art collection and is responsible for research into and exhibitions of the collection, as well as ensuring that this heritage continues to be a prominent part of Icelandic culture and art history. From its founding, the museum has also run a popular international artist-in-residence programme.
A comprehensive portfolio of Icelandic art
The exhibition programme of the centre is diverse. The director of Hafnarborg Aldís Arnardóttir explains that the museum presents numerous art exhibitions each year: “the work on display is significant to Icelandic art history, ranging from treasured artworks by the pioneers of Icelandic art to experimental works by leading contemporary artists. This summer, for example, we have two very exiting exhibitions, one by Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson and one by Elísabet Brynhildardóttir.”
Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson was born in Reykjavík in 1963, but she has lived most of her life in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is where she works on her artistic creations, but her Icelandic roots are very strong, and she travels back to Iceland on a regular basis. The exhibition is titled On the Sea of Tranquillity and will feature both new and older works, where Hildur combines the techniques of weaving and painting, as well as presenting embroidery and new ink drawings by the artist.
In addition to looking for inspiration in the Icelandic landscape, Hildur has for years made a series of images based on brain scans and celestial bodies, using hand-coloured silk threads that intertwine in a vibrant surface. “It’s like a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” Aldís describes, and continues “the artist captures a subtle atmosphere of vastness and stillness in a sort of abstract approach.” Works by Hildur are owned by museums, private collectors and public bodies, but the artist received the prestigious Cleveland Arts Prize at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio in 2008 and in 2015 she was recognised by The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation.
In the exhibition, Tentative Line, Elísabet Brynhildardóttir, who lives and works in Reykjavík, examines time, feeling and the perception of drawing, as well as the action itself. Drawing is our first visual response to the world long before we learn to write, acting as a projection of imagination and thoughts into matter. Director Aldís explains a bit more about the thoughts behind the work of the artist and the exhibition: “the theory is that when we draw it provides a direct link to thought while highlighting the close relationship between the person and the instrument.”
Through several different mediums, Elísabet contemplates ideas of impermanence, time, and material hierarchy. She has previously participated in a variety of exhibitions and other art-related activities and her work has, for example, been exhibited at Kling & Bang, i8 Gallery, Akureyri Art Museum, Hjalteyri Factory and The Living Art Museum. Alongside her artistic practice, Elísabet is an active member of the artist-run space Kling & Bang.
The museum also offers regular workshops and guided tours for people of all ages and hosts various concerts throughout the year. This summer, the Hafnarborg Songfest, a festival celebrating classical vocal music, will take place for the seventh year, from June 18 to July 2.
The festival’s programme includes concerts covering art song, opera, baroque and choral music, but the Songfest received the Icelandic Music Award in 2021 as Music Event of the Year in the field of classic and contemporary music. In 2023, the festival will offer eight concerts, with some of Iceland’s most renowned classical singers and instrumentalists, as well as a master class and music courses for children. Art and music thus continue to thrive at Hafnarborg, as the culture centre celebrates its 40th anniversary. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
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