February 25–May 14, 2016
Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson grew up in a family of actors and stage performers, which has continually influenced his work. Folklore even states that he was conceived on the set of Icelandic film Morðsaga (Murder Story) (1977). Regularly drawing from stage traditions, Kjartanasson often combines elements of performance, theater, music, and visual art within his art practice. With the intersection of these elements, the artist explores the nature of relationships, including those between mother and son, friends, lovers, and siblings, and usually incorporates family and friends, artists, musicians, and creative types into the cast. Touching on lightheartedness, the undertone of the work is more serious as the artist uniquely explores the boundaries between reality and fiction while employing constructs of myth, history, and identity. Kjartansson repeatedly celebrates the romanticized figure of the artist as cultural hero through the lens of music and durational performance while also pitting sincerity against the artifice of performance. Much of his work has art historical references but nods to religious/spiritual ceremonies that highlight repetition as a space for meditation and contemplation. Often a repeated stanza or phrase transforms into a transcendent mantra.
In The Visitors, a 9-channel video work that is an all-encompassing audio and visual smorgasbord, Kjartansson again turns to repetition. Performed at Rockeby, a rambling and slightly decrepit mansion dating back to 1815, Kjartansson and 7 friends position themselves throughout the home—in the library, kitchen, parlors, and bedrooms. Kjartansson soaks in the bathtub, guitar in hand. Located in the Hudson Valley area of New York where the famed Hudson River School painters made their mark, each of the 9 screens are themselves reminiscent of a painting—full of the rich and lushly distressed surroundings. Connected through headphones in order to hear each other, the performers sing lyrics written by Kjartannson’s ex-wife, artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir. Simple phrases are repeated with fervor: “Once again…I fall into…my feminine ways” mixed with “There are stars exploding around you and there’s nothing you can do” results in a 64-minute music video shot in a single take. While the title of the work references famed Swedish pop group ABBA’s 1981 album—written at a time when there was a breakdown in the group and the lead members divorced—this work showcases the individual as a member of a group. One cannot exist without the other. And while the musicians are in their own rooms, they are ever-present, playing instruments relentlessly, belting out lyrics, and in the end, enjoying the celebration as they exit the house and drift into the landscape, the song lingering as the screens go black.
Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976, Reykjavik, Iceland) lives and works in Reykjavik. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at the New Museum, New York; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Migros Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Zurich; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, among others. In 2011, he was awarded Performa’s Malcolm McLaren Award, and in 2009 he represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale.
On loan from the Gund Gallery at Kenyon College, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Graham Gund.