Kristján Gudmundsson (born 1941) is one of the pioneers of Icelandic conceptual art, which is well-known and highly regarded among all admirers of this genre. Conceptual art emerged in Iceland around the turn of the 1960s and 1970s within the circle of the young artists who had founded the Súm gallery in Reykjavik. This genre of art is characterised by intelligence, rigour, lyricism and humour. It is contemplative, restrained and perceptive, refusing to accept things as given and self-evident. The world and its phenomena are enigmas to which only art can offer precise, detailed and comprehensive answers.
Kristján Gudmundsson’s works are always of highly reduced form. The artist’s critical attitude and gaze have removed everything that is superfluous, simplifying things, leaving in view only that which is necessary, and enough. Gudmundsson works in an area in which tensions are created when the non-existent gains existence.
The content of Gudmundsson’s works poses intellectual challenges, addressing the most diverse problems of science, art and human life. He is able to combine in a fascinating way seemingly incommensurate things. Colour may turn into verbal expression, time can become visual, and mathematical series of numbers can tell of physical and spiritual pleasure. Gudmundsson’s works stimulate the intelligent viewer and offer deep satisfaction to the aesthetically inclined, while their refined humour appeals to some and yet others enjoy their absolute nature similar to mathematical expressions.
Kristján Gudmundsson has addressed the notion of drawing for decades. He has shot supersonic drawings, worked sculpturally with graphite, or pencil lead, created monumental drawings from giant rolls of paper and sheets of graphite, and glued pencil lead to walls to make almost immaterial sculptural drawings.
The works of the present exhibition are so-called Olympic drawings. They combine sculptural bars of graphite attached to the wall, i.e. three-dimensional drawings, with sports equipment of various kinds: an ice-hockey goal, a shot-put ball, a sprinter’s starting blocks. The pieces are heroically comical, crystallising knowledge of how millions upon millions of people all over the world gather in front of their television sets when an athlete prepares for a contest where winning and losing can hinge upon a hundredth of a second or a micrometre. Sports join together people of the most diverse kind, separating them from those who couldn’t care less about them.
Graphite is a wonderful material of nuanced and multi-hued colour that changes with light. Its porosity allows it to pick up light in a beautiful way, appearing to breathe. The sheen of graphite in turn reflects light, underlining the volume and sculptural nature of a solid. When this basic material of art is put together with brightly coloured industrially manufactured sports equipment, the combination is both solemn and amusing at the same time.
In recent years, Kristján Gudmundsson has had solo exhibitions at the Rappaz Museum in Basel (2015), the Marc Straus Gallery in New York (2015), Safn in Berlin (2014) and Galerie Martine Thibault de la Châtre in Paris (2013), among other venues. He has participated in joint exhibitions at the Belvedere in Vienna (2014), Immanence – Espace d’art contemporain in Paris (2013), MOCA in Los Angeles (2012), Haus der Kunst in Munich (2012), and other museums and galleries. Works by Gudmundsson are included in the collections of the following museums, among others: the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; Moderna Museet in Stockholm; Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Germany; Magasin 3, Stockholm; and the Frankel Foundation, Michigan. Kristján Gudmundsson received the Carnegie Art Award in 2010.