A Seasoned Artist who Continues to Grow
Kristján Guðmundsson Makes More with Less
Kristján began his career in the 1960s as a member of SÚM, a group of young artists many of whom were influenced by then-new currents in conceptual and installation art, mainly through the Fluxus movement which was represented in Iceland by Dieter Roth and the influence of which could also already be seen in the early work of Magnús Pálsson. Kristján’s first exhibitions were installations, often using found materials, including an outdoor sculpture made of loaves of whole-wheat bread which was confiscated by the authorities as a health hazard.
In 1970 Kristján moved to Amsterdam where he came into more direct contact with the international avant-garde. His works from the early 1970s include several important artist’s books which explore the possibilities of the book form and its conceptual extensions in various ways. These include the book Periods which shows several periods or full-stops from an edition of the poems of Icelandic Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness, magnified several hundred times and printed one to a page. Kristján received a stipend from the authorities in the Netherlands which allowed him to concentrate on his art which developed rapidly during his time there. It was in this period that he started working on the pieces which became known as Equal-Time Lines, lines drawn slowly with a fountain pen on blotting paper, each one representing both a length of time and a length on the page. Already in this early period one can find the sparse conceptual minimalism that has become to characterise Kristján’s work, made with the minimum of materials but imbued with strong association and often wryly humorous. An example of this is the piece Triangle in Square from 1971-72, consisting of a square of ordinary soil laid out of the floor of the gallery and within that square, a triangle made of consecrated soil. There is no visible difference of course but in some sense we are tempted to think there must be, at any rate in terms of the historical and cultural association.
Kristján continued to take part in exhibitions in Iceland though he lived in Amsterdam but he also expanded his work on the continent, along with other Icelandic artists living in Amsterdam at the time, most notably perhaps Kristján’s brother, Sigurður, and their friend Hreinn Friðfinnsson – both also members of the SÚM-group. A remarkable breakthrough came in 1977 when the Pompidou Centre opened in Paris and the director Pontus Hulten invited four Icelanders to exhibit: Kristján, his brother Sigurður, Hreinn Friðfinnsson and Þórður Ben Sveinsson. Kristján moved back to Iceland in 1979 but continued to pursue exhibitions internationally. In 1982 he represented Iceland in the Venice Biennale along with sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason.
Since then, Kristján has come to be represented by several international galleries where he exhibits new work regularly as well as taking part in museum exhibitions around the world. His work continues to explore the boundaries between conceptual art and minimalism and addresses the relationship of different art forms in general. Such, for example, are his “drawings” made by gluing graphite onto a surface rather than rubbing it on in the usual way. Increasingly, Kristján uses mass manufactured objects in his works, incorporating them into his concepts to achieve remarkably delicate and often poetic results. This is the case in one of his latest series, the Sound-Absorbing Paintings which are cited in the results of the Carnegie Art Award jury. These consist of canvases painted in a single colour and covered by mass-manufactured perforated grids normally used in the construction of sound-absorbing walls for building interiors. The result is as simple as can be but, as always with Kristján’s work, quite beautiful and multi-layered, evoking questions about the relationship of our different senses, the function of art and its possibilities.
List: Icelandic Art News is published by the Center for Icelandic Art, a cooperative project of Iceland's museums and artists' organisations. List is edited by Christian Schoen and Jón Proppé. If you wish not to receive announcements of our new issues - or you want to contact us for any other reason - please send a mail to email@example.com.