Ragnar Kjartansson: Architecture and Morality
The Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv
May 26 – July 30, 2016
The CCA presents a solo exhibition by Ragnar Kjartansson that includes iconic videos as well as a new body of paintings.
Ragnar Kjartansson creates durational performances, drawings, paintings, and video installations inspired by stage traditions, film, music, literature, and their histories. In any medium he uses, Kjartansson looks at pretending and staging as ways in which an artist can explore sincere emotion, employing romantic suffering and Weltschmerz. As stated in the catalogue of his exhibition at the New Museum: “Playing with stereotypes usually projected onto the persona of the actor, Kjartansson both celebrates and derides the romanticized figure of the artist as cultural hero. His performances are often feats of endurance, which last for hours or days at a time, taking a motif as simple as a pop song and transforming it through protracted repetition into a transcendent mantra.”
For his exhibition at the CCA, Kjartansson has created a new, ambitious body of paintings within the specific context of Israel. He spent two weeks painting the urban landscapes in the West Bank "en pleine air," akin to his performative painting practice over the past few years. The paintings are presented alongside two iconic video works by Kjartansson: A Lot of Sorrow (2013) and Song (2011).
A Lot of Sorrow is a six-hour video made in collaboration with the band The National. It was filmed during a performance of the same name that was originally part of MoMA PS1’s Sunday Sessions in May 2013. The National played their three-minute, twenty-five second song “Sorrow” live on stage, repeatedly and continuously, for six hours.
Song is also a six-hour video documenting a performance, made at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburg in 2011. It features three young women endlessly repeating slightly misremembered phrases from Allen Ginsberg’s poem "Song," set to melancholic guitar strumming. The image recalls ancient Greek myths of sirens and speaks to the neoclassical architecture of the museum.
The videos and paintings both address endurance and timelessness — whether the ongoing, deadlocked conflict that is the Occupation or the Romantic look at the emotional sublime. The vastness that is beyond any art’s ability to fully express can be both political and poetic. Kjartansson’s interest in music and his use of repetitive performance to harness collective emotion is a hallmark of his practice, and comes through in both the videos and the paintings that comprise “Architecture and Morality,” whose title comes from the 1981 hit record by OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).
The static, yet visually rich videos can be considered durational images, even “films as paintings.” And the paintings, in turn, tell a story about the banality of everyday life amidst complex political turmoil. They are studies in and of themselves – exercises in oil on canvas of a situation beyond one's grasp. The exhibition “Architecture & Morality” can be read from a number of angles, but ultimately it is a bold statement on art's futility in the face of social and political strife.
Curator: Chen Tamir
About the Artist:
Ragnar Kjartansson is one of Iceland's most well-known contemporary artists. His work has been exhibited widely: Solo exhibitions have been held at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the New Museum in New York, the Migros Museum in Zurich, the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Frankfurter Kunstverein, and the BAWAG Contemporary in Vienna. Upcoming shows include a major retrospective at the Barbican Art Gallery opening July 2016 and traveling to the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.