Reykjavik Art Museum gets triangular new identity from karlssonwilker

The New York studio’s system is based on the relative locations of the Museum’s three buildings, uniting the institutions in one symbol. We spoke to karlssonwilker about the project

Listasafn Reykjavíkur (The Reykjavik Art Museum) is the preeminent art museum in Iceland. It operates across three locations: a Contemporary Art Museum located in Hafnarhús, a Modern Art Museum located at Kjarvalsstadir and a sculpture museum dedicated to the late Ásmundur Sveinsson, housed in Ásmundarsafn.

The Museum commissioned karlssonwilker, whose partner Hjalti Karlsson was born and raised in Iceland, to create a new identity. Karlsson worked on the project with Art Director Sandra Shizuka, studio partner Jan Wilker and their team. We spoke to karlssonwilker about the project.

Ásmundarsafn sculpture museum

CR: What were the main issues that the institutions faced which you were trying to address here?

KW: The Reykjavik Art Museum has the largest art collection in Iceland. The museum is located in three separate houses (roughly 5 minute drive / 20 minute walk from one to the next), each focuses on different decades and artists. Even though each building is fantastic and has its own unique character, the museum did not speak as one institution. At the outset of this project, we conducted various interviews in Iceland. The interviews revealed that the majority did not know the three houses were in fact one museum, one destination. We strived to connect the three museums and to communicate them as one institution, internally and externally.

Additionally, with Iceland’s continuous growth of tourism, the museum needed to speak to different international audiences while keeping in close touch with the local community.

CR: Can you explain the triangular, prism device (above) that is used for the museum’s logo: what is the reason for its specific form? 

KW: The three museum buildings, when connected on a map, form a triangle almost identical to the one we have created. Essentially, the triangular device’s proportion is a reflection of the locations from a very elevated view.

CR: Why did you feel that the Suisse typeface was appropriate here? Why not an Icelandic design?

KW: Although some Icelandic type designers shared with us great work during our hunt for a typeface, after trying different options and type treatments, it made sense to use Suisse as we we looking for something subtle that underlines the prism.


CR: And why the overlapping lines of text on publications etc?

KW: The overlapping text is a device to connect English and Icelandic text. In the beginning it was only a typographic solution but in retrospect, it actually speaks for what the museum is trying to achieve – to start a dialogue between international and local visitors.

As you explore Reykjavik, you can see the effects of the huge tourism wave Iceland is experiencing. Restaurant and store names that were once Icelandic are now represented in the English language too and, in some cases, English only.

We wanted to integrate the two languages, to overlap and have them live together as much as possible in every piece (including the logo). Wherever the Icelandic stops, the last line ‘kisses’ the first English line.

CR: What’s the thinking behind the use of colour in the scheme?

KW: We started with vivid, strong, neon colors and ended up with pastel gradients. Iceland has a wide range of ever-changing light, skies with very subtle gradients. It was a longer process and we naturally ended up with what we have now.


CR: In terms of the values of the three institutions, what were you trying to embody in the new scheme?

KW: We wanted to successfully guide the museum through their transition by helping them communicate what lies ahead for the institution. The moving prism and the simple design solutions that we have created allow for many possibilities and lets the museum express what they want to become. As designers, there’s not a lot we can do but help them communicate who they want to be, but the main work of evolving as an institution is definitely in their hands. In short, the identity is aiming to visually support the museum’s future, goals (immediate and long-term), and what they aspire to be. We are very excited to see what the museum is going to do next.


CR: How will you work with the in-house designer on implementation – is everything now handed over or will you stay involved?

KW: We are currently in a transitional period; we have designed the main guidelines and the overall look and feel. Now is the time where more and more pieces are being produced and decisions need to be made. We are working closely with the local designer Armann Agnarsson who has worked with the museum for a few years, and will help bring the identity into reality. We will slowly step back over the next few weeks and let go.

See and

Merchandise ideas
Proposed graphic pattern using the prism device

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