Nuuk Kunstmuseum: The art of Greenland
Text: Louise Older Steffensen | Photos: Nuuk Kunstmuseum
Established in 2005, Nuuk Art Museum provides a 600-square-metre venue for Greenlandic art to be interacted with by Greenlanders and shared with the world. “There hasn’t really been a tradition of curated art and art history in Greenland but there are now two art museums here. So we’re seeing the beginning of a debate about what Greenlandic art is,” says the museum’s director Nivi Christensen. “It’s very exciting to be able to help shed light on Greenland’s art and artists.”
The private collection of Svend and Helene Junge, who founded Nuuk Art Museum, forms the basis of the museum’s permanent exhibition. Assembled over a lifetime, the original collection is extensive and eclectic, ranging from paintings to figurines — something which reflects the different gazes and variety of artistic endeavour in Greenland over time. “Painting here, for example, was a European pursuit until very recently,” Christensen points out. “Handicraft was much more common — beautifully decorated practical objects made using common Greenlandic materials like pelts, bone and stones. And interestingly, the popular tupilak, now seen as a national symbol, only really began being made to appeal to Europeans.”
Art as an industry came with the Scandinavians in the 19th century, when photos, rather than paintings, were already commonplace for documenting ‘exotic’ places. Although ‘Greenland painters’ did take off as a trend in Denmark, they tended to focus on large-scale, fantastical landscapes, made for a Danish audience. “One of the most fascinating things we show here is the differences in how we look at the world,” Christensen explains. “Outside views tend to look at the whole, especially grand landscapes. The Greenlandic gaze tends to focus on little details and patterns.”
Nuuk’s graphics workshop opened in 1975 and led to the first generation of home-grown Greenlandic artists. Naturally, they specialised in graphics and prints. The workshop is now the National Art School of Greenland, which trains five budding artists every year. The museum itself has started an artist-in-residence programme and encourages closer artist-and-visitor interaction and interest from the next generation through talks, events and school class visits.
While artists continue to typically study in Denmark, as Christensen herself did, the country’s first art historian is seeing a massive change and increase in interest from both locals and the international community alike. From August to November, the museum will be exhibiting The Weather Diaries, a collaboration between Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, by artists Nina Gorfer and Sarah Cooper. Their renaissance-like photo-portrait series, which examines the intersection between fashion, climate, and heritage and identity in the West Nordic countries, is set to be the first of many large and internationally-acclaimed exhibitions at the museum.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Receive our monthly newsletter by email