By Collectors Circle Board Member Richard Carnaggio
An overnight Icelandair flight allowed an early luggage drop at Apotek Hotel, a converted apothecary, before taxing off through an incessant landscape of moss covered volcanic rock to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. After submerging within 105 waters adorned in algae and silica masks it was back to Reykjavik and our city and harbor tour of the contrasting traditional and contemporary architecture including indigenous folklore explaining the abundance of vacant lots attributed to Elven inhabitation. After refreshments atop a glass domed restaurant we toured the President’s home and the French consulate, where Reagan and Gobachev met in the 1986 Summit. We concluded the tour climbing the 244-foot basaltic inspired tower of the Hallgrímskirkja.
The next day was The Golden Circle, three major destinations riddled with surprises visits to the Fontana Geothermal Baths, Fridheimar Tomato Farm, and Efsti-dalur where farm fresh ice cream is served alongside resting cows.
First stop, Thingvellir National Park, where breathtaking geology of fissures plunging into the earth witness the Mid Atlantic ridge rising above the sea where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates separate, providing the volcanic geothermal force giving life to this land.
Continuing to Geysir Geothermal Area allowed the volcanic presence to be visualized in perpetually steaming vents scattered about chemically chromatic soils. Of the two geysers, one erupts every ten minutes to the joyful screams of the ever-present recirculating tourists. The other, the Great Geysir, rarely erupts due to evolving tectonic activity and tinkering human intrusions.
Our next destination led us into the knee-high forests and verdant ancient valley of Iceland to the most spectacular multi terraced Gullfoss Waterfall where dining on delightful lamb stew warmed us for the journey back to Reykjavik with sightings of Islandic horses and multitudes of stacked stones called Cairns, which in the special low light invoked visions of distant trolls.
The next day we toured the Harpa Concert Hall, a visual and acoustical marvel. Graham performed a cappella as well as our guide, her voice resonating and reverberating within the multi storied and multi-faceted glass walls designed by Ólafur Elíasson whose studio we later visited at Kling and Bang in the Marshal House. At Nylo, the living art museum, intriguing geometric installations contrasted against organic salted imagery. An opening at BERG Contemporary gallery for Katrín Elvarsdóttir and her inspired photography was followed by a wonderful fish dinner at Fiskmarkaðurinn and afterwards the animated illuminated walls of Harpa Concert Hall lit the harbor.
Delightfully eclectic and unique shopping was explored by many in the morning before visiting the Museum of Design and Applied Art. Displays of wearable and functional artistic pieces paired with hundreds of shoes in the Imaginarium of Kron by Kronkron and the studio visit to the geodesic imaginations of Icelandic architect and mathematician Einar Thorsteinn, who also worked on the Harpa Concert Hall. That afternoon led us to i8 gallery and director Thorlákur Einarsson with works ranging from video installations to impaled produce.
Sunday morning we were treated to the steel plated walls of the Reykjavik Art Museum Hafnarhús. Amazing exhibits of Erró’s enormous postmodern collages, video installations illustrating racial terrorism and purely playful acoustically experiential installations balanced diverse and emotionally involved exhibits. Next was the studio of Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, whose figurative sculpture can be seen worldwide, including Birmingham. Her gallerists met us at Tevir Hrafnar Gallery for additional artist exhibitions and Steinunn joined us for dinner and introduced us to “Black Death” Brennivin the delightful Icelandic Aquavit.
Monday, the National Gallery of Iceland showcased a variety of 19th and 20th century Icelandic art along with other international renowned artists.
That afternoon Anna Jóelsdóttir’s brightly lit studio was an enthralling joy of sculptural painted canvasses resembling leafy sea dragons suspended in the air and flat canvass work in cheerful colored enthusiasm.
Húbert Nói Jóhannesson’s studio was a mesmerizing treat of images painted from experiences and memories, invoking movement and stillness. Large format landscapes, constellations balance in mathematical precision and flowing artistic interpretations.
We ended the evening, like the others, with another delicious meal. Throughout the week we dined on traditional local delicacies of fish, langoustine, and lamb with fresh vegetables and fruit. Controversial tastings of Minke Whale, Puffin and Icelandic Horse were also experienced, by some.
Being the warmer part of the year, the sun never quite set and the Northern Lights were not visible for us, yet the evening life was most illuminating in many ways. From my bedroom window, each evening I could hear from a distant bar, I kid you not, Sweet Home Alabama.