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The History of the Retreat’s Ceramics Collection

At the most fundamental level, each work represents the creative communion between man and earth.

The items exhibited at the Retreat are part of Icelandic artist Anna Eyjólfdóttir’s ceramics collection. Consisting of more than 1600 pieces spanning the 1930s to the 1980s, her assemblage covers the constellation of figures, movements, and trends during that period. As such, it stands as Iceland’s most extensive body of 20th century ceramic art. Anna, who doesn’t work with ceramics in her own art, began assembling the collection in 1979. Its genesis was unplanned. She simply needed cups for her summer house. Finding these items in a consignment shop, she subsequently bought additional household wares. And the collection had been born. In due time, Anna became something of a hobbyist collector, developing a burgeoning curiosity concerning the provenance of the pieces she was slowly accumulating. Then she had a startling epiphany: there was no curatorial entity focused on preserving Icelandic pottery. Anna soon began buying or scavenging any piece of clay art she could find. She did this with no regard for her own preferences. In so doing, she became the sole custodian of Icelandic ceramics—rescuing, documenting, and restoring these forgotten treasures. Through the decades, the collection consumed time, space, and money, transforming from a hobby into a burden. In fact, Anna once entertained the idea of driving a steamroller over it as a kind of performance art. Fortunately, she did no such thing and in 2017, the collection was acquired by the Icelandic Museum of Design & Applied Art with a grant from Blue Lagoon.

Documenting the evolution of Icelandic ceramics, the collection includes works by Guðmundur Frá Miðdal, Ragnar Kjartansson, Gestur Þorgrímsson, Sigrún Gúðjónsdóttur “Runa”, Dieter Roth, Steinunn Marteinsdóttir, Haukur Dór, Jónína Guðnadóttir, Kolbrún S. Kjarval, and Guðni Erlendsson. From functional pieces, to decorative items, to wall art, the archive is a testament to the skill, craftsmanship, and ingenuity of Icelandic ceramic artists. At the most fundamental level, each work represents the creative communion between man and earth. The assemblage thus harmonizes with the Retreat’s goal of bringing guests into unity with nature. In the coming months, the Retreat will exhibit other portions of the collection, ushering the untold story of 20th century Icelandic ceramics into the public sphere. Curated by IMDAA director Sigríður Sigurjónsdóttir, each exhibition is a collaboration between the Icelandic Museum of Design & Applied Art and Blue Lagoon.

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