Review: Ingenious Iceland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 7:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 7:27pm

Ingenious Iceland

Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery University of Hong Kong Until November 24

It is very rare to view a private collection of art like "Ingenious Iceland: 20th-Century Icelandic paintings from the Anthony J. Hardy Collection" in Hong Kong. The 80 pieces of modern and contemporary art make it possibly the largest collection of Icelandic art outside of Iceland and Scandinavia.

Hardy, a Hong Kong shipping executive and a former honorary consul for Iceland, is also a collector of traditional Chinese art, maritime art and maritime memorabilia.

The fascination of viewing any private art collection is to observe the foibles, bias and idiosyncrasies of its collector. Private collectors are beholden to only themselves, and their choices can be brave, odd and surprising.

Collecting can be obsessive, but the challenge should not be to collect everything, rather to build a superlative niche.

This collection comprises paintings, engravings, and three sculptures, and is biased toward Iceland's landscape: its outdoors, the sea and weather. This befits the subject, a sublime and rugged island.

His collection covers the last century of Icelandic art, the creative evolution of which has similarities with other countries that moved from a realist and modernist view to a more contemporary, conceptual depiction of the world.

The outstanding painter in the collection is Johannes Kjarval, who captures Iceland's topographic diversity and outdoor moods and dispels any stereotypical notion that Iceland is just snow and ice. Long-time British-based artist Karólína Lárusdóttir's Tjarnargata Street in Reykjavik, (below) could also be a surreal representation of the English taking tea in the 1950s.

Ingibjörg Styrgerour's subdued tapestry of hand-dyed Icelandic wool and natural horsehair depicts mountains, sea and sky.

Her tapestry weft's colour gradations, and the protruding individual strands of horsehair create a 3-D effect, emphasising the landscape and alluding to sudden changes in weather.

The work of Erró is a reminder that appropriation, Pop and comic art are universal - his For Alma Tadema combines a classically painted laconic lying nude in the manner of the 19th- century Victorian artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema with a looming background of red-dressed Chinese rural peasants in Cultural Revolution battle formation and defiance.

John Batten