Ragnar Kjartansson (Reykjavik, born in 1976) is an Icelandic artist of great complexity and expressive generosity: his visual language can be cataloged above all in the performative field, yet it involves multiple expressive media, with references to three hundred and sixty degrees ranging from video installation to drawing, to painting. In this way, through a sort of debt towards theater and classical tragedy, he manages to proceed on a multiplicity of levels, incorporating fragments, cameos and quotations from the history of cinema, music, visual culture and literature. All in a very calm way and with great mastery of every smallest compositional aspect.
Kjartansson, who represented his country at the Venice Biennale in 2009, only to be invited to the Palazzo Enciclopedico, the central exhibition signed by Massimiliano Gioni for the 2013 Biennale, has a very respectable curriculum, having achieved solo shows at the Reykjavík Art Museum, the Barbican Center in London, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, at the mythical Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the New Museum in New York, the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art in Zurich, and so on.
Now, the De Pont Museum dedicates a beautiful and impeccable solo exhibition to him, and it should be emphasized that this is the first time that the author has been shown in the Netherlands. The exhibition, in addition to confirming the fact that his research is mainly focused on the performative aspects of the work in progress, includes the world premiere of his grandiose video installation No Tomorrow, dated 2022. This work has been created by Ragnar Kjartansson with the collaboration of the choreographer Margrét Bjarnadóttir and the composer Bryce Dessner. The installation is enveloping and it is based on six large screens where the actions of eight women are projected, dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, playing the acoustic guitar, in a sort of circular carousel and loss of consciousness (do you remember Sufi dances and tarantolati?), where music becomes dance and dance becomes music. The work incorporates a song based on a multiplicity of sources and fragments; thus a novella by Vivant Denon (1747 – 1825, writer, engraver, art historian, Egyptologist, diplomat) finds here the shore with the verses of the Greek poet Sappho, to the point of encroaching on the evocation of painting (simple, humble, daily) by Antoine Watteau. In the artist’s words: “In No Tomorrow we’re playing with classic motifs of Western culture in an attempt to create a new way of making music and a new way of presenting it. Using the movements of the dancers to create music and a 30 channel sound and 6 channel video installation to reflect it in the exhibition space. Stockhausen meets the Grand Ole Opry, as Bryce describes it. It is also a wondering on our ideals of beauty, our search for it and the absurdity of its representations, inspired by the frivolity and reality of rococo paintings, classical ballet and song and dance films. The performers all took a great part in creating this piece with us, it is a portrait of them and their art”.
Alongside this mega installation, other significant artworks of his artistic career are exhibited, such as the video Me and My Mother (purchased by De Pont in 2020) together with paintings, sculptures, sketches and graphics. The main room of the museum will be the stage for the Woman in E performance (the first realization has been in 2016): fourteen performers, in rotation for the whole duration of the exhibition, will interpret a sort of sweetened little play. Here is a brief summary: a woman, wearing a sparkling golden dress, is on a rotating platform strumming, with an electric guitar, in a monodic and obsessive way, a chord in E minor. The profusion of gold (in the backdrop, in the platform, in the dress) refers to Las Vegas, to that sense of a somewhat sad and stretched spectacle that makes any perception of the transition from artificial light to sunlight meaningless, and this for every day and for all years. Life cannot have interruptions and gold is its false and engaging glitter. Whether it is a reasoning on vanitas or are we in the presence of a memento mori? We play, we dance and, as in a Bruegel painting, the inevitable triumph is that of death; a bit like in the chess game of the knight with Death, in Bergman’s film. The sensation you get is one of melancholy, sadness and anguish. The inspiration for this work does not derive from a comparison with Dürer’s engraving and the philosophy that stands behind it, but certainly the feeling is of a life where the cobwebs of time have created a hood that envelops us, and it does not give us an escape. As if to say, awareness is that of our living in society, in our being social animals and not hermits clinging to the top of the mountain, with the joys and sadness that ensue, the falls and errors of which we are the cause or of which we are the victims.
The exhibition, titled Time Changes Everything, is curated by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen and Maria Schnyder.
Ragnar Kjartansson, Time Changes Everything
09/17/2022 – 01/29/2023
De Pont Museum
opening hours: from Tue to Sat: 11.00 – 17.00
Thursday free admission: 17.00 – 21.00
Wilhelminapark 1, Tilburg, NL
Ragnar Kjartansson, Margrét Bjarnadóttir & Bryce Dessner, No Tomorrow, 2022, video still. Six channel video installation with sound, 29 minutes and 18 seconds. Commissioned by Sigurður Gísli Pálmason, based on the artists’ previous ballet No Tomorrow commissioned by the Iceland Dance Company. Courtesy of the artists, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Ragnar Kjartansson, Woman in E, 2016, performance. Originally presented and organized by Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, Michigan. Ph. Corine Vermeulen, courtesy photo MOCAD, courtesy artwork of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Ragnar Kjartansson, Woman in E, 2016, performance. Originally presented and organized by Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, Michigan. Ph. Elisabet Davids, courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Ragnar Kjartansson, The End – Venezia, 2009. Six-month performance during which 144 paintings were made. The Iceland Pavilion, Palazzo Michiel dal Brusà, 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009, from 14 June to 22 November, daily for six hours. Collection of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin. Ph. Rafael Pinho, courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík
He is editorial director of Juliet art magazine.