Ragnar Kjartansson: Song
Carnegie Museum of Art
March 11-September 25, 2011
It is always a thrill to experience some form of music in a museum or gallery, but rarely do the two intersect. Popular music, the egalitarian medium, does not often fit into the more elitist gallery and museum setting. Fun and humor are also often missing in this environment as well. Yet artists like Bruce Nauman, Richard Prince, and David Shrigley bring humor to the table. Laurie Anderson successfully combines performance and music, and the Talking Heads did so on a commercial scale with Stop Making Sense (1984). Phil Collins's video installation "the world won't listen" (2004-07), which featured karaoke of the Smiths, with its ability to reflect pop culture, and blend high and low art and humor perhaps has the most relevance to Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, who taps into the spirit of the aforementioned artists, combining music, performance, and humor in his installation "The End" (2008), one of four pieces that make up "Song," his first solo museum show in the United States and the 66th installment of Carnegie Museum of Art's "Forum" series.
Unlike the traditional music video, in which the viewer is bombarded with a frenetic pace of edited sequences of pscudonarratives and/or images of band members from a variety of camera angles slickly packaged into a 31/2-minute ADHD-inspired bitter pill, Kjartansson's work defies these conventions. "The End" features five large projections assembled from footage of musicians, including Kjartansson himself, performing in fur hats, coats, and boots in remote snow-covered locations. He and the musicians play a variety of instruments in four of the five projections, including guitars, banjos, and drums; in the other, a lone piano player bangs away in a snow-covered valley before a majestic mountain. In the installation, the viewer could see and hear what each musician is playing in each projection, and although the projections feature the same people playing in different locations, all play the same song synchronized to form one large band. At the center of the room, one could hear all of the parts as a whole. The song labors on at times, seemingly about to end on a number of occasions, but it is not until a guitar is tossed down a snow-covered hill, as if raising the white flag of surrender, that the piece finally comes to its conclusion. All of the footage is shot from one static vantage point devoid of any cuts. Watching the performers without the distraction of editing reinforces the feeling of a live performance. Kjartansson enables the viewer to become the editor, free to make decisions about how to consume the work based on positioning and how many projections are viewed at once, alone, or in combination. …