National Museums in Iceland

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


Iceland was not established as an independent state until the twentieth century. Nevertheless cultural enterprises like museums and collections were important elements in the nation building process in Iceland during the previous century. The museums chosen for this report have heavy references to the cultural and political struggle in Iceland to become acknowledged not only as a part of the Danish(-Norwegian) empire but as a nation with a separate and distinguishingly different past.

Icelanders; both in Iceland and in Denmark; had a part in the ideological and political struggle for establishing a national identity. Not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century was a certain political independence developed in Iceland. Museum initiatives started among Icelanders academically trained in Copenhagen in order to create separate collections of objects related to Icelandic national history (museum 1) or to make it possible for Icelanders to experience Danish and international art of high quality (museum 2). When Iceland became an independent state with its own national institutions in the early twentieth century; the Icelandic state used the two museums as important vehicles for developing a national identity and for securing public access to; control of and listing of both the historical and archaeological remains of the nation’s past and public access to the works of new generations of national artists. The interaction between national museums; the Parliament and the Government has been very close during the twentieth century; and the focus of the national museums has been on the preservation of the national identity and on the display of the works of national artists.

At its re-opening in 2004; the National Museum of Iceland continued its earlier strong emphasis on displaying and narrating the history and the genealogy of the nation through the centuries. At the same time; museum authorities introduced another perspective: Iceland as a young nation of immigrants with a vivid interaction with foreign countries past and present.


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