this research I examine the relationship between the growth of
tourism and changes in visual art in Akureyri, Iceland. Akureyri
though only having a population of 16.000, is the biggest town in
Iceland outside the Reykjavik area and attracts tourists who visit
the northeast part of the country.
the last 20 years, tourism has grown rapidly in Iceland and during
that period of time, the practice of visual arts has grown
Today, Akureyri is known for its art life, there are many
galleries and numerous exhibition spaces that have different
exhibitions every month.
The opportunity to study a visual art is readily available,
with both high schools offering excellent courses in addition to a
specialized art school.
Gell once said, “the aim of anthropological theory is to make
sense of behaviour in the context of social relations.
Correspondingly the objective of the anthropological theory
of art is to account for the production and circulation of art
objects as a function of this relational context” (Gell 1998:
11). Thus, I’m not
going to involve discussion of aesthetics that often seem to rule
the discourse of anthropology of art, but rather examine the
exchange of it here in the north with Iceland and the village of
Akureyri as a focus point.
goal of this research was to describe and analyse the demand and
consumption of Icelandic art by tourists and the reaction of the
artists towards that demand, relating these processes to
theoretical and empirical concerns.
fieldwork was used to examine the experiences of art dealers,
artists and the tourists themselves.
In addition I compared the situations of Iceland’s two
closest islands; Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
subject is limited to what Graburn (1976 :6) has called
‘commercial fine arts’, art which although made with eventual
sale in mind, still adheres to culturally embedded aesthetics and
The customers, in the study, are both Icelanders and tourists.
There has also been a significant change of mind in
Icelandic culture where people now prefer to buy Icelandic art
instead of foreign reprints to decorate their home.
Icelandic art has become a popular gift.
Listfléttan art gallery situated side by side to one of the
foreigners I have interviewed have noticed and recognised this
change of mind as something special.
Icelandic homes and public buildings are full of local art.
This visual interest Icelanders have for Icelandic art
triggers the tourist to buy art because they see it as authentic.
The quest tourists have for authenticity of the things they
bring back home with them rules in many ways what they
choose to buy (Steiner 1994).
will exclude what has been called souvenirs and Graburn
(1976: 6) categorises as art “when profit motive or the economic
competition of poverty override aesthetic standards, satisfying
the consumer becomes more important than pleasing the artist”.
This thus excludes vikings made of wood and sheepskin, and
lava like ceramics, to name few.
is an island bigger than Ireland but with a population of 270.000
individuals. Iceland gained its independence from Denmark in 1944.
In some respects, one can categorise Iceland as a third
world country, as imports far exceed exports.
80% of all national income is from fish but tourism is
growing year by year and has now become valuable to the Icelandic
though Iceland fits into the categorisation of a third world
country due to import vs. export ratio, one can not say that
Iceland is an undeveloped country.
Iceland has undertaken great changes in general for the
last 50 years. The
Icelandic population has become modern almost over night, mostly because of better transportation and communications with
the rest of the world. The
Icelandic population was quite isolated for a long time but
with modern technology, Icelanders travel abroad and get to know
other cultures just as others come to see them and their country.