Richard Serra’s Afangar

Is this Lewis, Shetland, or Orkney? Nope: It’s the island of Videy, near Reykjavik. And these are not millennia-old monoliths but sculptures erected in 1990 by Richard Serra.

Called Afangar (“Standing Stones”), this is a site-specific installation of nine pairs of basalt columns ranging from nine to 13 feet tall.

Serra was asked to create a public work for Reykjavik but found inspiration in the wild and rugged terrain outside the city. Extracted from a nearby quarry, the stones are carefully positioned in an area of this small (.7 square mile) island, spread out to elicit wandering and viewing from different perspectives in a landscape that includes water, a working harbor, plentiful bird life, tiny beaches, a great expanse of sky, and windswept grass.

Afangar3Scoreand More

Uninhabited since 1943, this island had a population that peaked in 1930 with 138 residents.  With archaeological evidence of settlement dating to circa 900 A.D., Videy has witnessed many changes. Over the years it has housed a monastery, wool mill, printing press, dairy farm, and fish factory. In addition to Afangar, now visitors find one of Iceland’s oldest stone houses (now a café-museum), its second-oldest stone church, and an installation by Yoko Ono called Imagine Peace Tower, a circular monument from which a beam of light sometimes projects into the sky.

Travelers on September’s “Fire & Ice: Iceland Natura” program will visit the tiny, pristine island of Videy. Led by The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Pari Stave, an Icelandic art expert, visitors will discover Serra’s largest landscape project, meet local artists, and marvel at the aurora borealis.

Photo courtesy of 3scoreandmore

Luxembourg Surprises

Some might find it surprising that there is notable modern architecture and art in Luxembourg City, the quiet, formal capital of a country that’s known more for its fairytale-like features such as hilltop castles, royal family and great expanses of forest.

Smaller than Rhode Island, strategically located between France and Germany and sculpted with dramatic topography that suspends fortifications high above steep ravines, Luxembourg has been much coveted over the centuries: It ping-ponged from Burgundy to Spain, France to Austria and Prussia to the Netherlands, and was occupied by the Nazis during both World Wars.

In Luxembourg City you can tour the Grand Ducal Palace, stroll through the cobblestone streets of the Old Town – and see striking architecture by I.M. Pei, Richard Meier and Christian de Portzamparc, and colossal public sculpture by Richard Serra and Frank Stella.

Indeed. Richard Meier designed the HypoVereinsbank in his trademark white and with a moat and ramp that refer to Luxembourg’s fortifications. In its plaza is the 20-foot-high Frank Stella sculpture Sarreguemines, whose jumble of curves is in juxtaposition to the straight lines of Meier’s building.

Then there’s the 65-foot landmark Exchange, a strong, unswerving Richard Serra sculpture that stands alone in a traffic circle that marks an entrance to the city.

Most notable though are two buildings that opened in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Designed by French Pritzker Prize-winning architect Christian de Portzamparc, the stunning and soaring white Philharmonie Luxembourg has quickly become an in-demand venue for many of the world’s great musical artists. And the elegant geometric lines of the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM; pictured) blend beautifully with the 18th-century fortifications it’s built around.

Have you seen these structures? What were your impressions?