Despite the Capital’s relatively petite size, Reykjavik is a city famous for its culture, exhibition spaces and devotion to the arts. Read on to find out all there is to know about Reykjavik's best art museums and photo galleries!
Visitors to the country who are looking to explore the artistic heritage of Icelanders will find themselves with a plethora of choice; galleries and photo exhibitions can be found around almost every corner, proudly displaying the creative traditions of this island’s most famous artists, as well as allowing space for up-and-comers to contribute their own work to the field.
Guests to Reykjavik will find themselves surrounded by artworks of all kinds. Residents often display their own pieces in the window’s of their home, whilst enormous, modern murals are painted with psychedelic energy across the sides of the city’s homes and buildings.
There are also numerous statues and sculptures dotting the city streets and parks, all offering an insight into Iceland’s history and famous past residents.
- See also: Art in the Streets of Reykjavik
For true art lovers, however, there is simply no alternative but to pay a visit to Reykjavik’s best museums and photo galleries, the largest of which is the Reykjavik Art Museum, run by the City of Reykjavik.
There are 3 distinct, historical buildings belonging to the Reykjavik Art Museum collection, called Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstadir, and Ásmundarsafn. They are open daily 10:00-17:00 (except Ásmundarsafn, which opens at 13:00 during certain months). The 1600 ISK (adult) and 1000 ISK (student) ticket are valid for all the museums on the same day. Anyone under the age of 18 can attend for free.
Listasafn Reykjavikur - Reykjavik Art Gallery at Hafnarhus
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: TommyBee
Perhaps the most well-known exhibition space belonging to the Reykjavik Art Museum is housed in Hafnarhús. The building can be found just near Old Harbour and was in fact originally used as a fisherman’s warehouse in the 1930s, before it was refurbished in April 2000.
Throughout the refurbishment process, great care was taken to leave as much of the original architecture as possible. The building is the newest addition to Reykjavik Art Gallery and contains six exhibition spaces, as well as an architecturally unique outdoor courtyard.
Erró. Photo from Hafnarhús.
Hafnarhús permanently exhibits the work of one of Iceland’s postmodern artistic heroes, Erró, the country’s most famous contemporary artist. Born Guðmundur Guðmundsson (1932) in Ólafsvík, Erró began his career at the School of Fine Arts in Reykjavik.
He later continued his studies at the Florence Academy of Arts in Italy and the Oslo Academy of Arts in Norway. For most his life, Erró resided in France, Thailand and the Spanish island, Formentera.
Picasso Melting Point. Erró. Flickr. Uploaded by: Yann Caradec.
Erró’s style can be easily recognised. The artist often uses large-scale collages, utilising images from comic strips, advertisements and politics, creating works that offer both a high degree of visual stimulation and a coded interpretation of modern affairs. By following this method, the artist secured his reputation as the country’s leading practitioner of Pop Art and Collage. Erró said of his creative process:
"I am always on the lookout for images, documentation, magazines, catalogues and illustrated dictionaries. I need efficient material and, during my travels, I search everywhere for bookshelves, Kiosks, etc. I accumulate an enormous amount of material, and when I have collected a lot of images pertaining to a theme, it is a sign to start a series, the process consists in selecting the images, Together to make collages, then paintings. With a good stock of images, I can have enough to work for one or two years."
Christmas White House. Erró. Flickr. Uploaded by: mark6mauno
Erró donated over 2000 works of art to the City of Reykjavik in 1989, including watercolours, oil paintings, collages and graphic art. The ground level of the museum is devoted to the artist, with the majority of his pieces taking up the full walls of the gallery space.
For anyone moved by his pieces, there is a museum shop by the entrance selling postcards, trinkets, clothing and books, all devoted to the master artist. Below, the Public Relations Director of Hafnarhús, Soffía Karlsdóttir, discusses the work of Erró.
The museum also devotes much of its space to other artists, both local and international. For example, Yoko Ono has often exhibited her work at Hafnarhús, displaying her own brand of interactive modern art. In the past, this has included communal painting, designing new creations from broken crockery and sensory deprivation sacks.
The gallery also makes for a unique venue for musicians and performers. The highly popular festival Iceland Airwaves often uses Hafnarhús as an alternative concert hall. There is also a restaurant/cafe called Frú Lauga Matstofa which serves a healthy array of snacks and drinks, including organic cakes and coffee and Italian beer and wine.
Reykjavik Art Gallery at Hafnarhús
- Address: 17 Tryggvagata, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10.00 - 17.00, except for Thursday, from 10.00 - 22.00.
Kjarvalsstaðir - Kjarval Museum
Photo from: Kjarvalsstaðir
Reykjavik Art Museum's second building, Kjarvalsstaðir, is dedicated to the Icelandic painter Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972), exhibiting a range of paintings and sculptures produced by the artist. Jóhannes S. Kjarval is considered to be one of the most important artists in Iceland’s history.
As a young man, Jóhannes S. Kjarval worked as a fisherman. He was also a prolific drawer and painter. At age 27, he received financial support from both his fellow fisherman and the Icelandic Confederation of Labour to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
Whilst studying in Copenhagen, he was introduced to a vast array of artistic movements and styles, an eclectic mixture of influences that would forever affect both the artist's wide body of work and his creative process.
Jóhannes S. Kjarval. 1934. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Photo by: Willem Van De Poll
Though the artists' appreciation of different styles has often been described as 'promiscuous', the vision behind Jóhannes' work was always themed around the concept that nature is alive. His landscape paintings manage to exquisitely capture the surrealist and mystic qualities of the Icelandic environment. In fact, Jóhannes made such an impact on Icelandic culture that the singer Björk even included an instrumental track called Jóhannes Kjarval on her 1977 self-titled debut album.
The architecture of the museum is unapologetically Nordic modernist, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the charming Klambratún Park. The Museum’s Cafe is open from 10.30am to 4.30pm. There is also a gift shop and an Idea’s Lab, where families can engage with their creative side and make their own art pieces.
- Address: 105, Flókagata 24, Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10.00 - 17.00
Asmundarsafn - Asmundur Sculpture Museum
Ásmundur Sculpture Museum. Photo from: Ásmundarsafn
Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) was an Icelandic sculptor, born in Kolsstadir in West Iceland. He is the main focus of Reykjavik's third building in their collection, Ásmundarsafn.
Ásmundur showed many artistic bents as a child. As an aspiring artist, he quickly enrolled at the Technical College of Iceland in 1915, undertaking a four-year apprenticeship underneath the tutorship of Ríkarður Jónsson, the artist and sculptor responsible for the design of Iceland’s coat of arms.
Ásmundur with one of his sculptures, in his garden at home. Photo from Ásmundarsafn.
Following the end of his apprenticeship, Ásmundur travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark, then to Stockholm in Sweden, where he enrolled for a six-year tenure at the Academy of Fine Arts.
Whilst there, he often studied under the direction of Swedish sculptor, Carl Milles. Forever looking to continue his education, after graduating from the Academy Ásmundur travelled to Paris to learn from the nude-sculptor, Charles Despiau.
Flickr. Uploaded by: David Stanley.
He returned to Iceland in 1929, where he focused on creating sculptures of men, women and farm animals, all under the general theme of work. In the 1950s, he had become far more interested in abstract sculptures, taking his inspiration from Norse mythology and culture, notably the Icelandic sagas.
Ásmundur strongly believed that art should not only be accessible to the wealthy elite but to the general public too. That is why much of his work can be found sprinkled around Reykjavik and its parks.
Works from the artist can also be seen at the hill Öskjuhlíð near Perlan, and at the historic farm and church estate of Borg á Mýrum. Sæmundur and the Seal is another sculpture, erected in front of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
The Washer Woman. Flickr. Uploaded by: Helgi Halldórsson
The museum was officially opened in 1983 and is instantly recognisable for its abstract architecture; sloping walls and a white central dome. The building was once the artist’s home and studio.
He donated the building, along with his work, to the City of Reykjavik in 1983. The artist primarily designed the building himself between the years 1942-1959 and was heavily influenced by the German Art School, Bauhaus. Other influences included the round-roofed buildings of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as the Pyramids of Egypt.
Ásmundarsafn always exhibits the work of Ásmundur, but will also exhibit work by other Icelandic artists, often whose work has some relationship to Ásmundur’s style of sculpture. The building is surrounded by a beautiful sculpture garden; 30 of Ásmundur’s sculptures decorate the area, which can be visited for free all year round.
Ásmundur Sculpture Museum
- Address: Sigtún 105, Reykjavík
- Open: May to September: Every day from 10.00 - 17.00 | October to April: Every day from 13.00 - 17.00
The Einar Jonsson Museum - Sculpture Garden and Gallery
Einar Jónsson Museum. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Photo by: Tommy Bee
The Einar Jónsson Museum was opened in 1923 and can be found in downtown Reykjavik, just beside the landmark church, Hallgrimskirkja. Einar Jónsson (1874-1954) was an Icelandic sculptor, born on the farmstead Galtafell in South Iceland.
As a young man, it was recognised early that he had an undeniable artistic bent, but there was no tradition of sculpture in Iceland at that time. He moved to Denmark to study at the Copenhagen Academy of Arts. In 1902, he was granted by the Althingi a grant to go and study in Rome for two years. After Rome, he returned to Copenhagen, where he would stay working for many years.
Einar at work in Philadelphia, 1917. Photo from: The Einar Jonsson Museum
In 1909, he made an agreement with the Althingi that they would provide him with a home studio upon his return to Iceland. In thanks, he would donate a vast portion of his work to the City of Reykjavik. Einar was intrinsic in the design and construction of his home studio, just an another example of the incredible artistic drive that he held.
From 1914, Einar had a number of works built for the American Government. These included a statue if the Icelandic explorer Þorfinnur Karlsefni, for the City of Philadelphia, and a statue of the forefather of the Icelandic Independence Movement, Jón Sigurðsson, for the Icelandic community in Montreal, Canada.
Einar Jónsson with his sculpture, Man and Woman. Rome, 1902. Photo from: The Einar Jonsson Museum
Spending over a decade on a single piece of work was not uncommon to Einar. He worked primarily in plaster, allowing him the freedom to sculpt unburdened by time and his materials. The garden has 26 bronze castings of Einar’s plaster work and is the perfect spot for a cultured and leisurely stroll.
During winter, the museum is only open during the weekend, but the sculpture garden is open all year round. There is no entrance fee to the sculpture garden, but it costs 1000 ISK to enter the museum.
The Einar Jónsson Museum
- Address: Eiríksgata 3, 101 Reykjavík,
- Open: Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 - 17.00. Not open Mondays.
Listasafn Islands - National Gallery of Iceland
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Uploaded by: Geraldshields11
In 1884, the Danish commissioner, Björn Bjarnason, established from Copenhagen the National Gallery of Iceland, filling it with a large donation of artwork from Denmark. The gallery was an independent institution until 1916 when the Althingi - the Icelandic parliament - chose to make it a part of the National Heritage Museum.
The collection was housed in the Althingi from 1885 until 1950, when finally the artwork was moved to the National Museum of Iceland, found at Suðurgata. There it stayed until 1987, when again the collection was moved, this time to Fríkirkjuvegur, where it has since stayed.
The building was originally designed in 1916 by acclaimed state architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, a man also responsible for designing: the University of Iceland, Hallgrímskirkja Church, The National Theatre and the Church of Akureyri, amongst others. Originally, the building was erected as a freezing plant for the then burgeoning town.
Today, the gallery largely focuses on exhibiting Icelandic artwork from the 19th and 20th Century, as well as also displaying some of the most valuable foreign art in the country, including the likes of Picasso and Edward Munch.
Skógarfoss by August Schiott. Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Uploaded by: orf3us
The National Gallery of Iceland is open every day save Mondays from 11.00-17.00. Admission for adults is 1500 ISK, whilst students, the disabled and those over 67 years old pay 750 ISK. Those in groups larger than 10 also pay only 750 ISK.
National Gallery of Iceland
- Address: 7 Fríkirkjuvegur, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 11.00 - 17.00, except Monday.
Ljosmyndasafn Reykjavikur - Reykjavik Museum of Photography
Flickr. Creative Commons. Uploaded by: Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavikur
The Reykjavik Museum of Photography is an independent museum, located in the same building as the City Library. In 2014, The Guardian newspaper declared it to be "one of the best free museums in Europe." It is, perhaps, easy to see why. The museum boasts an incredible 5 million photographs, shot between the years 1870 and 2002, with the aim to "awaken the widest possible interest in the cultural role of photography."
This amazing collection offers a true, black-and-white insight into the history and development of Iceland, told by those who not only lived through the experience but documented it during the earliest days of photography.
The exhibits are compiled by professional and amateur photographers, displaying an enormous range of portraits, landscapes and press photography. There are also many examples of industrial, advertising and family photographs.
Flickr. Creative Commons. Uploaded by: Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavikur
Since 2014, the Reykjavik Museum of Photography has merged with other popular institutions in Reykjavik, including the Viking Maritime Museum, the Settlement Exhibition and the open-air museum Árbæjarsafn.
The museum also nominates Icelandic photographers for different prizes that celebrate their contribution to the field. These prizes include:
- Deutsche Börse Photography Prize
- Leopold Godowsky Jr. Colour Photography Award
- Hasselblad Award
- Henri Cartier-Bresson Award
Reykjavik Museum of Photography is also notable for publishing its own photography books, sold within the gift shop.
Though the focus is on Icelandic photography, works by foreign photographers are also sometimes displayed. Entrance is free and their opening hours can be found on the Museum's homepage.
Reykjavik Museum of Photography
- Address: 17 Tryggvagata, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Monday to Friday 12.00 - 19.00 | Saturday to Sunday 13.00 - 18.00
Fotografi - Ari Sigvaldason's Photography Gallery
Photo from: Fótógrafí
Located on Skólavörðustígur in downtown Reykjavik, this small and classy boutique shop sells the personal photography of Ari Sigvaldason, as well as many other Icelandic photographers.
Fótógrafí was opened in May 2007 after Ari retired from his position as a newscaster on the Icelandic television channel RUV in order to commit himself fully to his passion for photography.
Photo from: Fótógrafí
He has an extensive collection of black and white photographs, available for sale in various print sizes, that document the life and times of Reykjavik for the last 20 years.
On another note, the shop also boasts a huge collection of LPs. Visitors can enjoy tunes from the sixties, seventies and eighties as they browse through the photographic collection.
Photo from: Fótógrafí
To take the experience home, visitors are advised to pick up a copy of Ari's signed book Shot in Reykjavik for only 3900 ISK.
- Address: Skólavörðustígur, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Monday to Saturday from 11.00 - 19.00 | Sunday opening times: 12.00 - 16.00
Nylo - The Living Art Museum
The Marshall House. Photo by Nýló.
Nýló was founded in 1978 as a reaction to the Icelandic art authorities' dismissal of contemporary artistic practice. The founders - all twenty-seven of them - set about at different stages of their career to create an exhibition space and venue that catered to supporting artists, encouraging contemporary artwork and collecting and preserving artists' work.
The gallery is a non-profit, members based institution, where the exhibitions reflect the cultural and socio-economic trends of the modern day.
On top of being an exhibition space, The Living Art Museum also serves as a venue for alternative music concerts, avant-garde performance pieces, film screenings and lectures on contemporary practice.
'Rolling Line' Exhibition by Ólafur Lárusson. Photo by Nýló.
The Living Art Museum also runs an internship programme the year round, perfect for aspiring artists or exhibitors who want hands-on experience dealing with the intricacies of managing and engaging in a gallery space.
Admission to The Living Art Museum is free.
The Living Art Museum
- Address: The Marshall House, Grandagarður 20
- Open: Tuesday to Sunday 12.00 - 18.00 | Thursday 12.00 - 21.00 | Closed on Mondays
Kling and Bang
Photo from Kling and Bang.
Established in 2003 by ten independent artists, Kling and Bang gallery space has gone on to become one of Reykjavik's hottest creative centres.
With an aim to exhibit new and emerging artists, as well as those already established in the artistic community, be it international or at home, Kling and Bang has become renowned for challenging its visitors' expectations of creative thinking.
For a number of years, Kling and Bang operated a 5000 square metre artists' base called the KlinK and BanK. Here, artists from all different fields - performance art, filmmaking, painting, sculpture, etc. - worked on a daily basis to create work that redefined the possibilities of artistry. The building was also used to host concerts, lectures and visiting exhibitions.
Photos from Kling and Bang.
In 2017, Kling and Bang announced it was to move into Marshall House, alongside the Living Art Museum. Their opening exhibition - 'Bad Company' - will feature eight new artists working across different mediums, all using their designated field to make profound statements about the Reykjavik art scene.
Kling and Bang is free to visit.
Kling and Bang
- Address: The Marshall House, Grandagarður 20
- Open: Wednesday to Sunday 12.00 - 18.00. Thursdays 12.00 - 21.00. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
The Nordic House
The Nordic House. Photo from The Nordic House Instagram Page.
The Nordic House in Reykjavik could be called many things, ranging from an art gallery, library, bistro and cultural centre. Having been founded in 1968, the institution's main ambition is to foster cultural ties with other Nordic countries, be it through 'Meet the Author' events, visiting art exhibitions or screenings. The Nordic House is operated by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The building's instantly recognisable structure is down to acclaimed Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, who used the mountain backdrop as inspiration to create an organic and unique design.
The building's rooftop is particularly distinguishable to the architect in its peculiar shape and deep blue tone. Aalto was also responsible for designing the inner furnishings of the building, making it wholly his own creation. The Nordic House is the only building in Iceland designed by a critically acclaimed international architect.
The Colour Map of Icelandic Wool, Exhibition (2017). Photo from The Nordic House.
On top of that, The Nordic House also hosts a shop where visitors can browse and purchase products and food with a distinctly Scandinavian edge. There is also a restaurant, the Aalto Bistro, that serves the best in Nordic cuisine. The restaurant's head chef, Sveinn Kjartansson, is famous across Iceland for his incredibly mouthwatering dishes; artworks within themselves!
Photo from The Nordic House.
The Nordic House
- Address: Sturlugötu 5, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Sunday to Tuesday 9.00 - 17.00
Wednesday to Saturday 9.00 - 21.00.
Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Photo by TommyBee.
Hafnarborg - The Hafnarfjörður Centre of Culture and Fine Art - was established in 1983 following a worthy artworks donation by local chemist Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir. From there on, Hafnarborg became the home of the town's art collection, enhancing the cultural landscape and promoting regional identity. One of the main goals of Hafnarborg is to maintain and preserve the town's contribution to Iceland's artistic heritage.
The museum is responsible for around 10 - 12 exhibitions per year, all of which encourage an interest in the history and development of Icelandic artwork. It is the philosophy that the museum should be a part of everyday life for the town's residents, hosting events that are educational, engaging and interactive.
It is a common event that curator's and artists will give lectures on the current exhibitions, creating a personalised dialogue that helps visitors learn and feel closer to the art.
Photo from Hafnaborg.
The museum also runs an 'Artist in Residence' program; applications are made by foreign artists to live and work in the specifically designated studio space on the museum's top floor. Resident artists enjoy the luxuries and utilities of modern-day life, paying 500 euro a month for the opportunity to involve themselves in the dynamic Icelandic art scene. This is just another example of how Hafnarborg continues to invest in the artwork of the future.
- Address: Strandgata 34, 220 Hafnarfjörður
- Open: Wednesday to Monday 12.00 - 17.00. Closed Tuesday.
Photo from Gerðarsafn.
Gerðarsafn is a progressive art museum focused on exhibiting the latest in modern and contemporary art. The museum is dedicated to the memory of Icelandic artist and sculptor Gerður Helgadóttir, a highly prolific visionary throughout the twentieth century. Gerður spent many of her working years focused toward glass artistry, and is the designer of the stain-glass windows at Hallgrímskirkja.
The museum hosts the work of both Icelandic and international artists and boasts a collection of over 4250 artworks. Museum curators began collecting local art as far back as 1968.
The museum also has a shop where visitors can purchase beautiful souvenirs based around the work of Gerður Helgadóttir.
- Address: Hamraborg 4, 200 Kopavogur
- Open: Tuesday - Sunday 11.00 - 17.00. Closed Mondays.