Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
July 6, 2007
Alexandra and her Saarinen Womb chair (see Making it hers, below) reminded me of another modernist icon, the geodesic dome, specifically the house my friend, Einar Thorsteinn, designed and took me to see last October when he and his wife, Manuela, gave me a tour of what they called “alternative Iceland”—as if all of Iceland isn’t “alternative.” Einar, who was a protégé of Buckminster Fuller, is an architect, mathematician, designer, and artist, who I met at Olafur Eliasson’s studio in Berlin when I was researching my Art in America article about Olafur. Einar collaborated with Olafur on his second show in New York, and is the muse behind Olafur’s elaborate geometry. His numerous side projects include working on the design of a mobile moon station for NASA and, looking ahead to a time when the earth could become uninhabitable, making plans for a domed city for Iceland—at the presentation for Olafur’s upcoming survey show at MoMA, the curator described Einar as a “visionary”. Einar tells me Einstein’s theories have been long superseded by one Burkhard Heim, and I have the feeling that me talking to Einar about Einstein is like someone who’s just discovered art talking to me about Andy Goldsworthy.
Our road trip to the Icelandic hinterlands had to be put off for a day because of high winds that made it impossible to drive, apparently not an unusual occurrence. But the next morning dawned sunny and glorious. My previous two trips to Iceland were in the winter when sun was hardly an issue, but this time I was glad I brought sunglasses, which Einar explained you need in Iceland because the sun comes at you from a very low angle and is therefore always in your eyes. The sun’s lowness also creates long shadows, which lends extra drama to the already dramatic moss and lava-rocked landscape.
The domed house, near the village of Hella (108 km from Reykjavik and close to the Ring Road) is visible from the road, appearing as a curiously regular grassy hill with windows in it. Getting closer you can see that inside the dome is a house and a garden—the earth and grass covers the house part, keeping it warm no doubt, while the glass over the garden makes for a greenhouse-like micro-climate. What’s funny is that the façade of the house inside the dome is hardly contemporary, but like a traditional Icelandic abode. With its painted red siding and white trim around the lace-curtained windows, it reflects the decorating tastes of its inhabitant, a woman in her seventies with a passion for gardening and tchotchkes—the place is rife with cement gnomes, while a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David graces the exterior garden.
Einar tells me that his purist architect friends aren’t amused by the incongruity, but he thinks its great, as do I. As with Alexandra and her Womb chair, it demonstrates that the owner is not making a style statement, but loves it for its own sake. This is Einar on top: