MOCA North Miami presents Ragnar Kjartansson: Song

From May 18 through September 2, 2012.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA) Knight Exhibition Series presents Ragnar Kjartansson: Song, the first solo American museum exhibition of Ragnar Kjartansson one of Europe’s most exciting and influential young artists. Kjartansson’s performances and videos combine the extremes of emotion with sublime environments, repetition, and humor. The exhibition of six videos will be on view at MOCA through September 2, a one-night only live performance by Kjartansson featuring his recent work, Du Holde Kunst (2012), will be staged during the exhibition’s opening reception on May 17.

Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976, Reykjavik, Iceland) has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions galleries, museums and major international art exhibitions. In 2009 he was the youngest artist to represent Iceland at the Venice Biennale with a performance that consisted of him painting from a male model every day for the duration of the five-month exhibition. In 2011, he was the recipient of Performa’s first Malcolm McLaren Award for his work Bliss, which consisted of an excerpt from the final aria of Mozart’s 1786 opera The Marriage of Figaro performed in repetition for twelve-hours.

Kjartansson’s Du Holde Kunst was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami and premiered at its 15th Anniversary Celebration in February 2012. In this performance, Kjartansson sings one of Franz Schubert’s best-known lieds, An Die Musik, a romantic ode to the transformative power of music, while accompanied by dancing showgirls with feather fans, a brass quartet, harp, timpani and large crash cymbal.

On Saturday, May 19, at 2:00 p.m. Kjartansson will discuss his work in detail in a lecture open to the public. The artist’s talk is free with museum admission. Ragnar Kjartansson: Song is organized by Carnegie Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Dan Byers, Carnegie Associate Curator of Contemporary Art.

“My work often is about this ethic of ‘pretense,’” says Kjartansson. “That’s my field of interest – the friction between pretending and doing; pretense and reality at the same time. It’s a constant struggle between truth and lies, and between tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious.”
A sense of theatrical, joyful absurdity, even in the face of the bizarre or the dark, is at the heart of Kjartansson’s work.

Kjartansson was born into a legendary Icelandic theater family: his father is a highly respected playwright and theater director and his mother an actress in film and theater. That lifetime of theatricality has had a profound impact on Kjartansson’s life and art – from his glam-rock band Trabant, which made him a rock hero in Iceland, to the strangely sweet trilogy Me and My Mother.

But Kjartansson’s work relies on a foundation that runs far deeper than his family’s theatrical bent. His interest in durational performance, repetition, and music stems, he suggests, from Iceland’s enduring legacy of oral culture – the repetitive transmission of knowledge through sagas, folk tales, and folk songs, rather than through lasting visual artwork. This fascination is apparent in Song, which treats Allen Ginsberg’s poetry as work that will be altered like oral-tradition folk songs; and in The Man, in which Kjartansson goes straight to the source: Pinetop Perkins, one of the last direct links to the American folk idiom. Most importantly, however, it appears in Kjartansson’s emphasis on performance – rather than the predominance of the art object – in all his work. In this realm, Kjartansson wavers between a besotted romanticism that honors truth and beauty above all else, and, at the other extreme, a highly self-aware, obsessive desire to entertain.
“There is no visual art history in Iceland – almost no objects,” says Kjartansson. “But there are all these stories: nothing but sagas and poetry for a thousand years. My performative works exist mostly as stories. I’ve never believed in the idea that you have to obtain the art piece to have it – you don’t even have to see the art piece! When I performed The End in Venice, people kept suggesting, ‘Oh, you should have a webcam!’ But I like the idea that very few people saw it – the ones who did will have a small anecdote about it, and it will exist as a story.”

Kjartansson was trained at the Royal Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Icelandic Academy of the Arts in Reykjavik. His solo exhibitions include The End, Luhring Augustine, New York (2010); The End, 2009 Venice Biennale; God, The Living Art Museum, Reykjavík (2007); Guilt Trip, i8 Gallery, Reykjavík (2007); Hot Shame the Quest of Shelley´s Heart, Galleria Riccardo Crespi, Milan (2007). Group exhibitions include 2nd Turin Triennal, Turin, Italy (2008); Manifesta 8, Rovereto, Italy (2008); It’s Not Your Fault, Art from Iceland, Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York (2008); Repeat Performances: Roni Horn and Ragnar Kjartansson, CCS BARD, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (2007); Where Do We Go From Here? Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2004); Etoiles Polares Vooruit, Ghent, Belgium (2004); and Winter Mass, The Nordic House, Reykjavík (2004). His work has been previously featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami in the exhibitions The Reach of Realism (2009-2010) and At Capacity: Selections from the Permanent Collection (2011).

Museum of Contemporary Art
770 NE 125th Street
North Miami, FL 33161

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