Gallerist Q&A – Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir

In this series, we talk to the founders and directors of leading galleries from across the Nordics about the personal stories behind them becoming gallerists, and the principles they work by. Meet Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir, who recognised limitations with the existing exhibition venues in Reykjavík and went on to found BERG Contemporary.

Portrait of Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir

Courtesy of BERG Contemporary

Installation View, Steina & Woody Vasulka, 2017

Courtesy of BERG Contemporary

All superheroes have a creation myth, what's yours? What got you started? Not many kids say: “I want to be a gallerist when I grow up.” How did you get into it?

While curating an international exhibition for Reykjavík Art Museum, I wanted to install a specific work by Tomás Saraceno, which happens to be quite large.

I got permission to borrow the work, but as it turned out, there was no appropriate site within the museum where the ceiling height could accommodate the installation. I therefore had to arrange for another work by the artist to be exhibited instead, but the idea to open a gallery with a high ceiling was planted at that point. I also felt there was a need for more international galleries in Iceland.

So I started to look for space and eventually I found an old glass factory in the center of the city that came with a perfect building plot. I did convert the old building into an art gallery that I opened in 2016, and a few years later, construction began on a new space with a 6-meter high ceiling that will open this October. The new hall will be an addition to the existing gallery.

Portrait of Steina and Woody Vasulka

Courtesy of BERG Contemporary

Did you have any gallery experience before opening your gallery?

Since being a very young woman, I have been in the art world, teaching at the Iceland University of the Arts for many years.

I have curated exhibitions in Iceland, Europe, and the United States, and I have also collected art for a long time. I therefore felt that I had broad experience and a good network that was well suited to opening a gallery.

Portrait of Steina Vasulka at BERG Contemporary

Courtesy of BERG Contemporary

What is your role? (talk about what you think the most important parts of your job are, what is your function, what is your role in the artworld?) (curator / agent / manager / salesperson / therapist / bank / coach / host / entertainer / accountant / magician… )

Like most gallerists, I have experience in all of those roles. But today I have very competent and dedicated coworkers, and therefore can spend most of my time planning the gallery's program, curating exhibitions, and coaching when wished for or needed.

Installation View, Rósa Gísladóttir, Medium of Matter, 2019

Courtesy of BERG Contemporary

What was the first work you ever sold? Do you wish you had bought it rather than selling it?

If I remember correctly, then it was a work by Finnbogi Pétursson. I know that the person who bought it was very pleased with the acquisition, and as I have two wonderful pieces by him, I would not have change a thing.

Installation View, Sigurður Guðjónsson, Unseen Fields, 2021

Courtesy of BERG Contemporary

Is there a young artist you have helped to achieve international recognition?

To my knowledge, It is very seldom that young artists get international recognition. But of course, being a young artist is a relative concept. Good things usually happen gradually. One of my artists, Sigurður Guðjónsson, is representing Iceland at the Venice Biennale, and of course, I have supported him to the best of my abilities.

I also have the honour of representing Steina and Woody Vasulka. They are recognized internationally as pioneers of video art but have never worked with a gallery before. Therefore, I have been working with their legacy and promoting their work at various Art Fairs such as FIAC, Frieze, this year's CHART, and at the Armory in September.

David Risley is an artist. He ran David Risley Gallery, in London (2002-2010) and Copenhagen (2010-2018). He was founding Co-curator of Bloomberg Space, London (2002-2005), Co-founder of Zoo Art Fair, London (2004), and Co-founder and Co-owner of CHART. He continues to write, curate, and develop projects with artists. He is developing a sustainability project for public-facing institutions.

Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir is the founder of BERG Contemporary, located in an old glass factory in Reykjavík, Iceland. BERG Contemporary
aims to provide a diversified forum for contemporary art by representing emerging and established artists, and by seeking the resonant tone of the present through a programme of innovative exhibitions.