Weep with joy and watch this video of ‘The Visitors,’ the Broad’s most moving piece of art

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
Editor, Los Angeles & Western USA
Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors
Photograph: Michael JulianoRagnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors

When every museum in L.A. started to temporarily shutter, the Broad brought a bit of brightness to our social media feeds one afternoon with a livestream of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. But as lovely as that was, we think there’s another piece at the museum that’s even more perfect for right now.

When the Broad opened nearly five years ago, there was one installation that we stumbled upon on our first visit that kept us firmly planted at the Downtown L.A. museum: Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors, a nine-screen, roughly hourlong one-take video of musicians performing in separate rooms of an ornate-but-crumbling farmhouse in upstate New York.

The piece has only been on view at the Broad twice, the last time in early 2019, so allow us a quick primer on its in-person setup: There are nine screens set up around a dark room, and each one puts you in the company of a different musician—a pianist, a cellist, a drummer, an accordionist—performing simultaneously, all wearing headphones and confined to a different room (save for a totally not social-distancing–safe gathering on the porch).

But don’t rely on our description: You can watch a five-minute snippet in this effective 360-degree video from SFMOMA, which hosted the installation in mid 2017.

While that video may give you a sense of The Visitors’ setup, its abbreviated length misses out on the gentle lulls and furious crescendos of the full piece: the way the ultra-repetitive refrain of “Once again I fall into my feminine ways” morphs from sorrowful to celebratory, and how the “There are stars exploding around you, and there’s nothing, nothing you can do” chorus becomes a fearlessly jubilant anthem. In other words, it’s missing all the parts that will make you cry happy tears.

Thankfully, this totally-not-official video captures the entire song, from Kjartansson’s opening delicately strumming an acoustic guitar in a bathtub to the delightful, overly-dramatic ending.

It’s a profoundly moving experience to see and hear The Visitors in person, as you literally place yourself inside the performance as if peering through a doorway. But even watching it on your screen—let’s just call it a virtual window into this wonderful house—the piece’s themes of both isolation and togetherness are still totally clear. The musicians may not interact physically (mostly), but they still come together to create something beautiful—an overwhelmingly real sentiment for most of us right now.

We’ll admit that there’s one part that inspires tears more jealous than joyful at the moment: Towards the end, all of the musicians gather around the piano for a drink and stroll past the front parch and into an open field, singing as they go. We, too, look forward to drunkenly singing in the yard with friends and family again—or at least seeing The Visitors whenever it may return to the Broad.

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