Ragnar Kjartansson

Art
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(3user reviews)
 (Ragnar Kjartansson, 'God', 2007. Photo: Rafael Pinho. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík)
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Ragnar Kjartansson, 'God', 2007. Photo: Rafael Pinho. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík
 (Ragnar Kjartansson, 'Me and My Mother 2015', 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík)
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Ragnar Kjartansson, 'Me and My Mother 2015', 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík
 (Ragnar Kjartansson, From the series 'Scenes From Western Culture', 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík.)
3/8
Ragnar Kjartansson, From the series 'Scenes From Western Culture', 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík.
Ragnar Kjartansson (Ragnar Kjartansson, From the series 'Scenes From Western Culture', 2015)
4/8
Ragnar Kjartansson, From the series 'Scenes From Western Culture', 2015
 (Ragnar Kjartansson, 'Song', 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík.)
5/8
Ragnar Kjartansson, 'Song', 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík.
 (Ragnar Kjartansson, 'The Visitors', 2012. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík.)
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Ragnar Kjartansson, 'The Visitors', 2012. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík.
 (Ragnar Kjartansson, Installation view of 'Me, My Mother, My Father, and I', 2014. Courtesy New Museum, the artist, Luhring Augustine and i8 Gallery. Photo: Benoit Pailley)
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Ragnar Kjartansson, Installation view of 'Me, My Mother, My Father, and I', 2014. Courtesy New Museum, the artist, Luhring Augustine and i8 Gallery. Photo: Benoit Pailley
 (Ragnar Kjartansson, 'The End', 2009)
8/8
Ragnar Kjartansson, 'The End', 2009

First UK survey of the internationally acclaimed Icelandic artist

The first piece in Ragnar Kjartansson’s Barbican show features ten male performers playing the guitar, singing in Icelandic and drinking beer. Playing on a screen behind them is a soft-focus sex scene, from a 1970s Icelandic movie, between a housewife and a plumber. As with all the work in this exhibition, it’s context that brings it to life: the on-screen lovers are the artist’s actor parents, and the guitarists are singing their dialogue. The work’s title? ‘Take Me Here by the Dishwasher’. Raunchy stuff. 

Kjartansson was born in Reykjavík in 1976, into a bohemian family whose Freudian baggage features largely in his art. When he appears in his work, he always cuts a slightly ludicrous figure. In multi-channel film installation ‘The Visitors’ (2012), he sits in the bath, crooning and strumming his guitar. In ‘Death and the Children’ (2002), he dresses up as the Grim Reaper and creeps up on a group of schoolkids in a cemetery shouting ‘I am DEATH!’ Rather than running screaming, they all start laughing at his paper scythe. Kjartansson plays it all with a completely straight face. How seriously are we meant to take this?

Not that he’s averse to making others look stupid, either. Case in point: ‘A Lot of Sorrow’ (2013), in which he got indie band The National to perform their song ‘Sorrow’ on repeat for six sanity-testing hours. I’m not sure which of the 90-odd renditions I walked into, but frontman Matt Berninger was certainly looking a bit frazzled. You get the sense that Kjartansson likes pushing things to extremes: telling a joke so many times it becomes painful. And then painfully funny. Or is that funnily painful?

Such contradictions – comedy, tragedy; fact, fiction; irony, sincerity – are the lifeblood of his work. And it can be maddening stuff. Many will tire at second-guessing at how far Kjartansson’s tongue is lodged in his cheek, and his refusal to make anything that can be interpreted at face value. But art with universal appeal would be a very beige thing indeed – and if you can get on board with this guy’s brand of whimsy, it could well be the best thing you see all summer.

By: Matt Breen

Average User Rating

4.3 / 5

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LiveReviews|3
1 person listening

I don't generally get live performance or video installation in galleries but I loved both in this case and particularly the insane endurance element of his work and the brilliantly tongue in cheek style.


Walking into the darkness of The Visitors piece and making sense out of the initial disorientation, I was moved in a way I can't last remember by what unfolded on the 8 massive screens surrounding me. A great place to bathe in lots of sentiment and emotion.


I spent 4 hours of one of the hottest days of the year enjoying this exhibition which i think is is testament in itself to the greatness of the show.

tastemaker

I wasn't too sure about this exhibition as I do not think the advertising gave this show justice. 


The intro announced Marina Abramović as a main inspiration for Ragnar which made my heart sink - I visited her exhibition last year in London and was who-fully dissapointed. 


But don't let this put you off - as Ragnar's work is brilliant mix of theatre music and art. I wouldn't even describe it as performance art. There's no expressive dancing in site.  Just beautiful music and amazing imagery which takes you to another world in its deeply repetitive tones. 


The visirors (Ragnars new work) was by far the highlight and I spend almost an hour in this piece. 


Do not miss this excellent exhibition which completely changed my mind about performance art and will be an exhibition that will go down in history! 


FINISHES ON THE 3RD SEPT. 

tastemaker

Performance art can have a rather serious and pretentious tone, a reputation of purposely aiming to perplex the viewer by being so bizarre and so far removed from reality that it’s impossible to understand. While still completely bonkers, Ragnar Kjartansson’s work abandons the usual hard to relate to concepts, and pushes through the distancing artist-viewer boundary by engaging the audience through an underlying wit.

The installations include sinister titles such as ‘Death and the Children’, ‘The Visitors’ and ‘Take Me Here by the Dishwasher: Memorial for a Marriage’, dealing with some extremely dark themes such as death, divorce and grief. However every performance has a humorous undertone that is charming and refreshingly different. For example ‘Me and My Mother’ consists of the artist’s mum aggressively spitting on him, all in the name of affection of course, and ‘Death and the Children’ sees the character Death light-heartedly conversing with young ‘uns in a graveyard. Another example of his dark humour is ‘Take Me Here by the Dishwasher’, a clip of his actor parents in an erotic daydream sequence. The idea of your parents getting it on is horrifying to most, but Kjartansson proudly projects the scene onto the wall and credits this was likely when he was conceived.

Despite the morbid subject matter and covering some of the darkest elements of existence, Kjartansson promotes a tone-in-cheek outlook on art and life, in a kind of Monty Python ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ way- silly yet optimistic. His wonderfully positive message that nothing is meant to be taken too seriously is enlightening, and you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. Plus you’ll be singing the repetitive tune ‘Sorrow Conquers Happiness’ for days.