“Ragnar Kjartansson,” the first major survey of the work of the internationally acclaimed Icelandic artist, runs Oct. 14-Jan. 8, 2017, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The exhibition is the first comprehensive overview of the artist’s prodigious output since his debut in Reykjavík, Iceland in 2000. It features the artist’s most celebrated works, including many never before seen in the U.S., and encompasses the entirety of his practice – live endurance performance, large-scale video installations, drawings, photography and painting.
Born into a theatrical family in Reykjavík in 1976, Kjartansson dons various guises – from a foot soldier, to a Hollywood crooner, to an incarnation of death – to both celebrate and ridicule the romantic figure of the artist as a cultural hero. Drawing from theater, film, Icelandic storytelling, rock bands, opera music and pop culture, Kjartansson stages repetition and endurance performances that explore family, society and contemporary culture with infectious humor, irony and poignancy.
In a Hirshhorn first, visitors will be able to experience a live performance of Kjartansson’s monumental “Woman in E” (2016) every day of the 12-week run of the exhibition. The work features a single, sequin-clad woman strumming an E-minor chord endlessly, rotating on a pedestal in a gold-tinseled room, a performance that walks a characteristic line between kitsch and earnest commentary on feminine objectification. A rotating cast of Washington-area musicians will play the “Woman.”
“We are honored to be showing the work of an artist who has had such a profound impact on the contemporary art world,” said Melissa Chiu, the Hirshhorn’s director. “American viewers are perhaps most familiar with videos of Kjartansson’s musical endurance performances, such as ‘S.S. Hangover,’ which was shown at the Hirshhorn last year. But few have had the opportunity to see the full range of his talent.”
“I’m thrilled to be in the canon of the Hirshhorn,” said Kjartansson. “I feel a bit like a thief in the temple. To collaborate with those brilliant people is a kick.”
To celebrate the exhibition’s opening, the Hirshhorn will host an evening discussion with Kjartansson and Washington musician and essayist Ian Svenonious (Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Chain and the Gang) Friday, Oct. 14, at 6:30 p.m., and a daylong fall festival with performances by local bands and art-making activities for all ages Saturday, Oct. 22.
For more information and a full list of programs, visit hirshhorn.si.edu/collection/ragnar-kjartansson.