The Frist Center Presents Icelandic Artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s Internationally Celebrated Video Installation The Visitors
Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors November 18, 2016–February 12, 2017
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (September 29, 2016)—The Frist Center for the Visual Arts presents Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors, a hypnotic and immersive multichannel video installation of musicians performing in a historic mansion in New York’s Hudson River Valley. Combining the Icelandic artist’s interests in music, endurance, and beauty, the hour-long, nine-screen video was called “a generational masterpiece” by The Boston Globe and will be on view in Nashville from November 18, 2016, through February 12, 2017.
The seductive music and lighting, combined with the shabby elegance of the nearly 200-year-old Rokeby Farm home owned by the famed Astor family and their descendants, create a lulling and wistful atmosphere for a work that explores a range of human emotions. Seen in the gallery, the installation prompts viewers to become physically engaged with the work and move from one screen to another in response to the intimate flow of music and imagery. Eight screens each show a single musician—on cello, piano, accordion, or another instrument—playing and singing in accompaniment to Kjartansson, who strums his guitar while sitting in a bathtub. The ninth screen is fixed on the porch, where a group of musicians, residents of the house, and friends have gathered. Throughout the performance, a haunting melody and lyrics are repeated and altered, becoming an absorbing mantra with nuanced repetitions. As a critic for The New York Times observed, the music is “alternately tragic and joyful, meditative and clamorous” and it “swelled in feeling from melancholic fugue to redemptive gospel choir.”
The isolation of the musicians throughout the large home may be seen as a metaphor for human relationships and the nature of collaboration. Although the musicians are connected auditorially by headphones, they play and sing alone, collaborating without bodily cues or eye contact beyond the electronically delivered music. “The spectacle of inward-looking musicians striving toward expression as an ensemble seems to offer a microcosm of a culture in which meaning is often formed through technological interfaces between the isolated self and a larger community,” says Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala.
Together and apart, the musicians, all friends of the artist, create a musical experience built around the phrase “Once again, I fall into my feminine ways,” which is a line from a poem by artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir. “The musicians are led by Kjartansson, who cuts a commanding yet somewhat comical figure as he sits—pale, pudgy, and naked—in a sudsy bathtub,” says Scala. As the performance comes to a close, the musicians leave their posts and join together outside the home, continuing to sing in harmony as they move toward the memorable culminating scene.
Instead of approaching art as a solo endeavor, Kjartansson often works with collaborators to orchestrate vignettes that are rich with symbolism and sensuality. His performances stretch out the artist’s absurd, endearing experiences and can take hours, even days or months, to unfold. “Like such predecessors as Andy Warhol, Kjartansson acknowledges boredom and repetition as intrinsic conditions of contemporary existence,” says Scala. “While Kjartansson pushes the limits of endurance for himself and his collaborators, he congenially accepts that audiences will come and go as they please, experiencing the work in its entirety or in brief episodes. But, as happens with Warhol, the reward of extended viewing is a heightened perception of differences in the repetition of a scene, musical phrase, or physical action. The whole world is contained in these variations.”
About the Artist
Ragnar Kjartansson lives and works in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was born in 1976. He studied in Reykjavik at the Iceland Academy of the Arts as well as in Stockholm at the Royal Swedish Academy. His art has been exhibited worldwide, with recent solo shows at Le Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, New Museum in New York, the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich, and BAWAG PSK Contemporary in Vienna. In 2009 he represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale’s International Art Exhibition and in 2011 he received Performa’s Malcolm McLaren Award for his performance piece Bliss. The first major survey of Kjartansson’s work was on display at the Barbican Centre in London earlier this year and is at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, through January 8, 2017.
Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors was organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Friday, November 18
Frist Center Auditorium
Lecture: “Experiencing Ragnar Kjartansson” Mark Scala, Chief Curator, Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala will discuss Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors in the context of durational performance, a genre of contemporary art that explores questions of stamina, intimacy, relevance, and slowness in contemporary life. Such performances often encapsulate the notion of relational aesthetics, a conceptual framework in which the artist searches for meaning through the construction of social interactions. Scala’s lecture will encourage viewers to consider Kjartansson’s work as it reflects on the fundamental nature of art: Is it an object or an experience?
About the Frist Center
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Center offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Information on accessibility may be found at fristcenter.org/accessibility. Gallery admission is free for visitors 18 and younger and to members; $12 for adults; $9 for seniors and college students with ID; and $7 for active military. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5:00–9:00 p.m. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservations by calling 615.744.3247. The galleries, café, and gift shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00–5:30 p.m., with the café opening at noon. For additional information, call 615.244.3340 or visit fristcenter.org.