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Oh, the Grandness at Ásmundarsafn!

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Oh, the Grandness at Ásmundarsafn!

Elín Hansdóttir.
Outer exhibition space, including details of Collapse (Elín Hansdóttir), Interference 1-10 (Elín Hansdóttir) and Glasstowers Fall (Ásmundur Sveinsson). Photo: Courtesy of Reykjavík Art Museum and i8.

“I could watch this all day,” a visitor in the anteroom of the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum enthused as she stood before Elín Hansdóttir's video, Collapse (2016), a computer simulation in which successively larger blocks fell one another until the more massive ones begin to fracture into elegant pieces.

It was easy to see what she meant. As anyone who’s ever witnessed a house fire knows, destruction in progress is a sight difficult to ignore.

Less understood is how compelling a view of the aftermath of that devastation, laid bare, can be. Filling the outer, curving space of the museum, Elín’s sculpture, also based on falling blocks and titled Collapse (2016), shows us first, tiny white blocks on their sides, then, successively larger ones, fallen, until, finally, human-sized pieces, shattered into fragments that look like natural boulders. A bowed wall facing the destruction holds ten paintings that form a series in which a pattern is built up as additional fields of color are added, each partially obscuring the color blocks that have come before. The sequence resembles a sunrise, man-made.

Additional art works fill the narrow space. Crowning the row of fallen blocks is a group of sculptures by Ásmundur Sveinsson that combines metal rods and geometric cut-outs with household objects. The busyness of these pieces provides a visual counterweight to Elín’s austere compositions. Ásmundur’s sculptures also serve to ward off any over-seriousness—one piece includes an up-ended bathtub and, as if that were not enough, has been titled The Resurrection (undated).

Ásmundur Sveinsson.

Ásmundur Sveinssons The Resurrection. Photo: Courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum.

Several other works by Elín, located in interior spaces, explore the nature of construction. In Balancing Bricks (2013), a single, narrow wooden frame manages to support an L-shape of six similar frames above. Ten stone slabs are placed in a dramatic,how-is-this-possible position, using calculated counterpoise in Counteract (2016). Additional Elín works are visual incongruities in a surrealistic mode. In A Matter of Course (2016), installed in the building’s dome, an aluminum sheet, crumpled as if it were rejected paper and painted with cross-hatching, hovers near the ceiling like an alternate chandelier.

Elín Hansdóttir.

Elín Hansdóttir's Balancing Bricks (2013). Photo: Courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum and i8.

The Ásmundur works selected for the exhibition are less high-flying. Animal or human form is morphed in unexpected ways in sculptures such as Wotan's Raven (1952) or Hell Ride (1944), although the works remain recognizable portrayals of their subjects. In Midsummer Night (1940), a building housing an amorous couple has been fractionated in an innovative manner. Yet, many of Ásmundur’s non-figurative works look derivative. The sculptor’s most felicitous contribution to the exhibition turns out to be the curving space that embraces the giant, collapsed dominos—fittingly, perhaps, as Ásmundur advocated the extension of sculpture to include architecture, even city-planning.

“Disruption—Ásmundur Sveinsson and Elín Hansdóttir,” curated by Dorothée Kirch, continues through October 9.

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