The Central Bank of Iceland’s recent decision to take down two paintings by Gunnlaugur Blöndal featuring nude women has caused an uproar. Vísir reports that the decision was spurred by complaints from employees, who considered the artwork and its placement inappropriate. Artists and art enthusiasts have criticised the decision as prudish, lamenting that the work has been placed in storage and out of view.
Puritanism and pornography
Though it is not clear exactly which two paintings have been removed from the Central Bank’s walls, one of them is believed to be the picture seen below:
The Federation of Icelandic Artists sent a written statement to the Central Bank, criticising the decision to take down the paintings and place them in storage. Erling Jóhannesson, the federation’s president, criticised what he called the bank’s “prudishness and puritanism.” Erling says the human body is a timeless subject of art which can represent many concepts, “but if you don’t have the judgement to look deeper, everything changes into pornography.”
Artist and research professor Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon agrees with Erling. “You may as well put half of art history into storage,” he remarked. “The human body, both male and female, has long been the subject of artists.”
Based on equality, not taste
Stefán Jóhann Stefánsson, an editor at the bank, stated the decision to take down the works was made after careful deliberation. “This debate has a long story behind it and has come up before.” Stefán added: “Taking into consideration the gender equality policy, anti-bullying policy, and harassment, the decision was made to respond to these suggestions.” The decision is not based on artistic judgement of the works, according to Stefán.
Stefán explained that one of the paintings was hung behind a superior’s desk. “Employees have expressed the opinion that women shouldn’t be required to discuss issues with male superiors with paintings of naked women in front of them.”
Paintings exhibited next month
Many have suggested the bank sell the paintings or donate them to the National Gallery so they can be enjoyed by the public. Stefán says both works will be exhibited on Reykjavík’s upcoming Museum Night. “The fact that the pictures are no longer locked up in certain offices creates the opportunity to show them to the public. The decision had been made to display these pictures at the Central Bank on Museum Night next February 8, and this debate has not changed that.”