The Emergence of SÚM: Collective Art Practice in Iceland, 1965-1978
Nicole Pollentier, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
SÚM was a loosely affiliated artist’s collective that was founded following a 1965 self-organized exhibition of works by Jón Gunnar Árnason, Hreinn Friðfinnsson, Sigurjón Jóhannsson, and Haukur Sturluson. This exhibition marked the first break with the government-sponsored Union of Icelandic Artists and their primarily abstract style. While the work of SÚM's members varied widely – showing a range of influences including Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Arte Povera, and Fluxus – the artists involved shared an affinity for questioning the material nature of the art object, challenging social and artistic conventions within Iceland, and connecting with new art movements abroad. In 1969, the group established its own gallery, where in addition to exhibitions, they hosted happenings, performances, discussions, and film screenings, showing work by both local and foreign artists. The activities of SÚM instigated a destabilization of the nascent art world in Iceland and provoked public outcries that ranged from perplexed to outraged. Since pieces by SÚM members were routinely excluded from the national collection, in 1978, when the collective had largely dissolved, a group of artists founded the Living Art Museum, primarily to preserve SÚM works. Today, most young artists are members of the Living Art Museum, which extends the legacy of SÚM by stimulating artistic exchanges and encouraging the production of experimental art. In this talk I will discuss the emergence of SÚM, provide a brief overview of the group’s major projects, and examine how the collective practices of its members provided a critique of the political and cultural environment of the 1960s and 70s. I will consider the lack of scholarly attention that SÚM has received and the unique challenges that assembling a history of the group presents, despite its significant position in the history of Icelandic art.