Icelandic Prints in NYC

Self-Portrait, Magnús Thór Jónsson (Megas) etching

If you’re over in Chelsea visiting the galleries, or the High Line, before June 11th, be sure to stop in the International Print Center New York and catch the show Other Hats:  Icelandic Printmaking.  Featuring the work of 20 printmakers who are either Icelandic, or who have lived long enough in that country to have absorbed the culture, this lovely exhibit showcases a variety of techniques, including screenprints, digital , artist’s books, and etchings.  The show’s title references the fact that many printmakers often have other artistic practices (video, music, sculpture) or have other careers that they exercise in tandem.  Partly that is because Iceland is so small, that there’s no local art market to speak of, as well as the fact that literature is the dominant form of cultural expression. Here are some of my selections:

Self-Portrait, Magnús Thór Jónsson (Megas) etching

Magnús Thór Jónsson (Megas) is known as one of Iceland’s most influential songwriters and provacateurs.  He’s created a series of etched self-portraits, using combinations of inks and the resulting variation in plate tone.

detail from paper Flowers, Rúna Thorkelsdóttir, offset prints

Rúna Thorkelsdóttir’s offset prints of flowers is set up in it’s own corner, where it runs from floor to ceiling, with the occasional framed offset plate print hung on top.

1 Out of 100 Parts, Katrin Suguỗardóttir, paper pulp

New York based artist Katrin Suguỗardóttir’s cast cotton paper relief was created using the molds she used to cast four ceramic tiles for the Icelandic Pavilion in the 2013 Venice Biennale.  I was not surprised to learn that she is primarily a sculptor and installation artist. 

Portrait #3, Birgir Andrésson, Screenprint

In his screenprints Portrait #3, and Portrait #4, Birgir Andrésson, uses text to convey visual imagery; as the sighted child of blind parents, he used words to explain the world to them.  This text, Portrait #3, reads in part:  “He has a flat, fleshy cheek, thick lips, the base of the nose is wide, the mouth rather big and he has small and shapely teeth starting to turn yellow.  Beard he has just on jaws and under the chin, as in the old style, but tufts around the mouth and sometimes some long prickles….”

Everyevergreen, Sara Riel, monoprint using digital prints of drawings and paintings

To create Everyevergreen, Sara Riel transferred digital prints of drawings and paintings to canvas, then added hand coloring.  She chose the conifer, because it “is worshipped at Christmas and [then] forgotten”.  At about 5’ x 5’, this is one of the largest works in the show.

from the “Islands Series”, Per Kirkeby (Denmark), drypoint

Per Kirkeby hails from Denmark.  Poet, writer, filmmaker, sculptor, as well as printmaker, he studied geology before becoming an artist.  This above etching is one of a series of 34 which he created on site using drypoint on zinc.  His fine lines and deep incisions provide depth of expression.

Fellow Travellers, Helgi Thorgils Fridjonssón, etchings with chine collé

A painter as well as one of Iceland’s most prolific printmakers, Helgi  Thorgils Fridjonssón, has many works in this show, in a variety of styles.   In the catalogue he says, “The artistic world I create is some sort of a universe of its own and printmaking is an important part of that world.” 

etching from Los Caprichos, Helgi Thorgils Fridjonssón, etchings

Myself and Goya, from Los Caprichos, Helgi Thorgils Fridjonssón, etchings

There are about two dozen etchings Fridjonssón made based on Los Caprichos, a series of 80 etchings by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya.

Hat, Dieter Roth (German Swiss, Icelandic citizen) hand spray painted and painted photomechanical reproduction of a manipulated postcard

Dieter Roth was a major influence on Icelandic printmaking.  While his series Hat may at first make you think of René Magritte’s paintings, Roth has recast this motif and made it his own by creating twenty unique prints of the same image of a hat, screenprinted over a copy of a postcard of an Icelandic landscape.

Other Hats will be at the International Print Center of NY  508 West 26th Street, Room 5A, only through Saturday, June 10th.  Catch it before it closes.

Not So Tranquil Rooms

Portrait of the Artist's Wife Ida from 1890 by Vilhelm Hammershøi

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Ida from 1890 by Vilhelm Hammershøi

Until March 23rd, Scandinavia House  is presenting “Paininting Tranquility,” featuring about two dozen works by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) considered to be one of the greatest Danish artists of he late 19th century.

Consisting of about two dozen works from the National Gallery of Denmark,   you’ll find portraits, cityscapes, landscapes, but mostly rooms, with and without people, primarily painted between 1888 and 1907. 

In all these paintings, Hammershøi works with a fairly limited palette of browns and grays, with the occasional yellow or green stopping by to say “hello.”  His works possess some of the austerity you’ll find in works by Edward Hopper or Winslow Homer, but overlain with distance and puzzlement, even melancholy. There are no people in his city- or land-scapes; the women in his interiors are usually alone, with their backs to us

In his portraits, Hammershøi eschewed details, giving them more a psychological than representational aspect.  You see this very strikingly in the portraits of his wife, Ida;  there are two from 1890; her attire and demeanor are the same;  yet, when she was his fiancée, she was depicted in broad lines, her hat and costume cited; yet, after their marriage, her portrait is almost full-length; her face smoother and her eyes clearer; the feather in her hat is more defined, and you can see the buttons on her jacket. In a  small portrait from 1894 we see her, head uncovered, gazing downward, and wearing a very severe dress; yet, there’s a certain tenderness conveyed here, as also in the large scale portrait from 1907 (after she had recovered from a life-threatening illness) where Ida is sitting, idly stirring a cup of tea and looking off, away from the viewer, past the frame.

In the next room you’ll find “Evening in a Drawing Room” showing Ida knitting, while her mother-in-law sits nearby, reading the paper, each engrossed in her own work, as if they were passengers in the same rail car. This is the only painting that had more than one person, but that feeling of isolation which infuses his interiors, carries over here, too.

Paintings of rooms dominate this exhibit;  even though Hammershøi was known as “the painter of tranquil rooms” and these interiors are plain you somehow feel a bit off balance.  I found myself repeatedly wondering what was going on; many of the paintings would have a lone woman who was not facing the painter, and I wanted to know what she was doing; whether she was smiling or frowning… there are windows and doors that lead to somewhere else, and I kept on wishing I could go through the paintings and see what lay beyond.

From Christianhavn's Cove, by Vilhelm Hammershøi

From Christianhavn’s Cove, by Vilhelm Hammershøi

That feeling carried though his painting of three ships”From Christianahavn’s Canal;” tied up in the dock, with their sails indicated through rough lines in an almost Cubist fashion, they are facing seaward; but there seems to be fog over the water, not letting you see what you’re sure is there..   I found the same to be true of “Buildings of the Asiatic Company” from 1902 – a baroque style building connected to its warehouse by a one story structure, looking over the harbor, which you can’t see, because of fog… but if you look closely, you’ll see the outline of a ship in between the buildings.

I would say in general that what you don’t see in Hammershøi’s pictures shapes your perception as much as what he does make visible.

Spotlight: Scandinavia

This weekend starts a 4-day symposium on Scandinavian theatre, put together by Origin Theatre.   So I thought this would be a good time to spotlight Nordic Culture in New York. 

At the Northern Lights Symposium you’ll find free events such as a sampler of contemporary plays for Young Audiences with country-specific readings and video excerpts from all 5 Nordic countries; a roundtable on Cultural Diplomacy; and a staged reading in cultural partnership with, and produced by, Scandinavian American Theater Company.                   RSVP   is strongly recommended for these events

Although Leif Erikson reached North America in 1001, it wasn’t until the early part of the 19th century that Scandinavians arrived New York City, often working  on the docks of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, Red Hook, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. While many of their descendants have since relocated to other parts of the country, there is still a vibrant Nordic presence in the Big Apple.  Below are some of the highlights.

Scandinavia House,  the Nordic Center in America, is located in the heart of Manhattan on Park Avenue at 38th Street, Scandinavia House offers art, music and film from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as lectures and staged readings of Nordic plays. They offer activities for families and kids, including language lessons.  Or, you could just grab a bite at the Smörgås Chef restaurant, or stop by the shop and get some Scandinavian goods.  Scandinavia House is also the home of the American Scandinavian Foundation  

In the Scandinavia House gallery, through March 26th is Painting Tranquility – Masterworks by Vilhelm Hammershøi from SMK – The National Gallery of Denmark – a lovely small show by this Danish painter.

Also at Scandinavia House on Friday, March 4th, you can see the Icelandic film, “Paris of the North” a comedy about the relationship between a father and son, directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurosson.    On March 5th is the Children’s International Film Festival featuring shorts from over 30 countries.

Here are other places where you can find information on Nordic happenings in New York:

The website of the Finnish Embassy   

Finnish Cultural Institute in NY:   The Institute has three principal areas of operation: It runs an artist-in-residency program in Brooklyn, New York; it produces, curates and presents both large scale touring exhibitions and smaller events in collaboration with local galleries and museums in North America; and it develops active collaboration networks with North American educational institutions and organizations within the field of visual arts.

The website of the Danish Consulate

The website of the Icelandic Consulate

Norway’s NYC Consulate’s Facebook page  

Swedish Consulate’s website

You can find traces of Scandinavia at:

The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre  in Central Park, features productions based on classic fairy tales and offers an enriching theatrical and educational experience for young children. The Cottage is a member of the Historic House Trust of New York City.

Leif Ericsson Park on 4th Avenue and 66th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn  has playgrounds, pass areas and 10 tennis courts. This year, Leif Erikson Day will be celebrated on October 9, 2016

The Scandinavian East Coast Museum is a virtual museum with some interesting facts about Nordic life in Brooklyn  

There’s a Vikings exhibition at Discovery at Times Square (I haven’t seen it so I have no opinion on it).

Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in Gotham

Since the Chelsea Music Festival   is focusing on the music of Hungary and Finland this year (both countries’ native tongues share a common linguistic ancestor)  I thought I’d write a bit about the cultural organizations in New York from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. 

The Balassi Institute of Hungarian Culture is hosting Budapest Pop-up during June featuring classic and contemporary music.

Czech out the films, concerts and other offerings at the Czech Center (you knew there was going to be a bad pun)   Through the rest of June, they’s showing the Czech that Film festival, and hosting a concert of new composers.   Their rooftop-ciné series on Tuesdays in July and August features live music and early 20th century Czech and American films on the theme of the “fallen woman”.

The Polish Cultural Institute   promotes a wide range of cultural programs in music, art, film, theatre and dance.  On their website  you can find out more about Polish artists performing in New York  such as the Polish National Ballet at the Joyce Theatre  through June 21st, or the  Obara International Quartet at Jazz at Lincoln Center  on June 30th, or the works by  Pawel Althamer and Agnieszka Kurant which are included in the Storylines exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum .

The Romanian Cultural Institute hosts concerts, lectures and exhibits throughout the year; when this blog went to press, their summer calendar wasn’t posted.

Scandinavia House offers a wide range of programs from the Nordic countries, including  exhibitions, lectures, jazz concerts, kids activities and Nordic noir films (need I say more).  You can find the full schedule here    Be sure to check out the gift shop for some truly unique items, or enjoy lunch or dinner at Smörgås Chef.

The Finnish Cultural Institute  offers a residency for Finnish artists, designers and architects.  This year, they’re celebrating their 25th year in New York, with the theme of Urban Nature.   In July, catch “The Powers That Be”     an exhibition on physical energy at  Station Independent Projects  on the Lower East Side.