Discovering the Reykjavík Art Museum: An Essential Journey Through Iceland’s Art Scene

  • by Yanshu
  • Reykjavik
  • 22 Nov 2023

Discover the vibrant heart of Iceland's art scene at the Reykjavik Art Museum. This guide invites you to explore its rich collections, and dive into the world of contemporary and historical art in Reykjavik, showcasing the best in Icelandic creativity. Perfect for art lovers and travelers alike, discover what makes this museum a must-visit.

Discovering the Reykjavík Art Museum: An Essential Journey Through Iceland’s Art Scene

Listasafn Reykjavíkur – the Reykjavik Art Museum

Listasafn Reykjavíkur

The Reykjavik Art Museum is the largest visual art institution in Iceland, encompassing three unique locations, each with their own architectural significance. These buildings are vital to the institution’s heritage and play a significant role in Reykjavik‘s cultural landscape.

Hafnarhús

Hafnarhús, which means ‘harbor house’, was originally an Old Harbour Warehouse located at Tryggvagata. This edifice, designed by Studio Grandi Architects, stands as a prime example of industrial architecture repurposed for contemporary art. The former function of the building gives it a raw, authentic feel. It underwent a renovation to become part of the Reykjavik Art Museum, retaining its original character while serving as a modern space for art exhibitions.

The outside of Hafnarhus – Reykjavik Art Museum [Photo credit to Reykjavik Art Museum]

Kjarvalsstaðir

Kjarvalsstaðir is dedicated to the work of one of Iceland’s most beloved artists, Jóhannes S. Kjarval. The building itself is surrounded by the lush vegetation of Klambratún Park and stands out for its modernist architectural design. It was one of the first buildings in Reykjavik specifically constructed to house art, signifying the city’s developing cultural aspirations.

The outside of Kjarvalsstaðir – Reykjavik Art Museum [Photo credit to Reykjavik Art Museum]

Ásmundarsafn

Ásmundarsafn, formerly the studio and home of the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson, is a domed structure reflecting the artist’s vision and functional creativity. Sculptures are integrated into the architecture and surrounding garden, offering a harmonious interplay between art and environment. The building is a fine example of Icelandic modernism, inspired by Mediterranean styles, and deeply rooted in the natural world.

The outside of Ásmundarsafn – Reykjaivk Art Museum [Photo credit to Reykjavik Art Museum]

What to See at the Reykjavík Art Museum

Reykjavík Art Museum, or Listasafn Reykjavíkur, stands as a premier destination for art enthusiasts, where you can immerse yourself in a rich array of Icelandic art and international masterpieces. Here, the collections bridge the gap between historical significance and contemporary relevance.

Permanent Collection

The Reykjavík Art Museum houses an impressive permanent collection that celebrates the depth of Icelandic art. You’ll be captivated by works spanning various mediums, from paintings to sculptures. The permanent collection gives prominence to the museum’s dedication to artists who have shaped the Icelandic visual arts, prominently featuring the likes of Jóhannes S. Kjarval, a masterful expressionist painter, and iconic works from the Erró Collection.

[Photo credit to Yanshu Li]

Temporary Exhibits

Throughout the year, the museum dynamically showcases temporary exhibits from both local and international artists. These exhibits often focus on contemporary art, providing a platform for cutting-edge expression and innovative artistic dialogues. One such notable exhibit includes the immersive Chromo Sapiens installation by Icelandic artist Shoplifter, which presents a vivid exploration of color and sensory experience.

William Morris Exhibition at Reykjavik Art Museum in 2019. [Photo credit to Yanshu Li]

Notable Artworks

Among the museum’s treasures are several notable artworks that you shouldn’t miss. Erró, an influential figure in pop art and narrative figuration, offers a thought-provoking visual feast with his bold, colorful images that often reflect societal and political critiques. In the realm of modern art, the museum also boasts significant pieces that capture the evolution of art through Iceland’s history, presenting a narrative not just of artistic endeavor but of national identity.

Essential Tips for Visiting the Reykjavík Art Museum

Reykjavík Art Museum offers a dynamic experience with its six galleries, sculpture garden, on-site café and restaurant, and a museum shop. Your visit is complemented by ease of access to gallery spaces, dining options, and exclusive Icelandic art pieces for purchase.

There Are Six Galleries

The museum houses six galleries spread across three locations—Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, and Ásmundarsafn—featuring a regular rotation of exhibitions from both Icelandic and international artists. You can explore diverse art styles in gallery spaces that are designed to enhance your viewing experience. Check the museum’s website for current exhibitions and opening hours.

Sculpture garden at Reykjavik Art Museum. [Photo credit to Reykjavik Art Museum]

Sculpture Garden

At Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundarsafn, enjoy the tranquility of the Sculpture Garden, where the fusion of art and nature creates a serene environment. The outdoor exhibits showcase sculptures by Ásmundur Sveinsson and other artists, accessible during the museum’s opening hours.

Café and Restaurant

Relax and reflect on your visit at the museum’s café at Hafnarhús or dine in the elegant setting of Kjarvalsstaðir’s restaurant. Both offer a selection of refreshments and dishes that cater to varying tastes, making it the perfect spot to recharge during your visit.

Take a pause at the Reykjavik Art Museum and experience Icelandic art. [Photo credit to Reykjavik Art Museum]

Museum Shop

Conclude your tour at the museum’s gift shop, where you can find a range of unique art-inspired items, books, and memorabilia to take home. Each purchase supports the museum’s operations and cultural offerings. Lockers are also available to store your belongings while you shop.

If you’re planning to explore all the major sites, the Reykjavik City Card is a must-have. It offers free entry to the city’s top galleries and museums, including the Reykjavik Art Museum. To guarantee a smooth experience, make sure to review the admission policies and book your tickets in advance. 

What To Do at the Reykjavík Art Museum

Reykjavík Art Museum is infused with engaging educational activities designed to enhance your appreciation of art. Whether you’re looking to deepen your understanding through guided tours and lectures or immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of festivals, there’s a range of options tailored to your interests.

Guided Tours

You can explore the museum’s diverse collections through expert-led guided tours, which provide insightful commentary on the exhibits and artists. These tours cater to different age groups and interests, ensuring a personal connection with the art. For specific exhibitions, like Chromo Sapiens, guided tours can offer a deeper dive into the artwork’s themes and context.

Exhibition at the Reykjavik Art Museum. [Photo credit to Reykjavik Art Museum]

Lectures and Seminars

The museum organizes a range of educational seminars and lectures that spotlight various artistic movements, historical periods, and theoretical frameworks. These sessions are helmed by art historians, curators, and scholars. For instance, you may find lectures that elucidate the works of Icelandic artists such as Erró, or seminars discussing the intricacies of the Icelandic art scene.

Festivals and Special Events

Partake in the museum‘s stimulating schedule of festivals and special events throughout the year. Events like the celebrated Iceland Airwaves integrate music with visual arts, offering a sensory feast. Festivals may also include interactive workshops, live performances, and family days with free admission for children, blending education with entertainment.

  • Admission: varies by event
  • Accessibility: events tailored to diverse audiences

Each program aims to enrich your educational experience, inviting you to engage with Reykjavík’s vibrant art community.

Kjarval´s Art at Reykjavik Art Museum. [Photo credit to Reykjavik Art Museum]

Frequently Asked Questions About Reykjavík Art Museum

Before planning your visit to Reykjavík‘s art scene, you may have some questions regarding the operation hours and the number of art museums available for exploration.

What are the opening hours for the Reykjavík Art Museum?

The Reykjavík Art Museum is typically open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, hours may vary by location and season, so it is advisable to check the museum’s official website before your visit for the most current information.

How many art museums can be visited in Reykjavík?

Reykjavík boasts a rich array of art museums, with the Reykjavík Art Museum itself housing its collection in three distinct buildings: Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, and Ásmundarsafn. Across the city, several other dedicated art museums and galleries contribute to Reykjavík’s vibrant art scene.

About the author
Yanshu
Yanshu
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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