Ragnar Kjartansson Scenes from Western Culture, The Boat (Stephan Stephensen, Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir and Gyða Valtýsdóttir), 2015

Ragnar Kjartansson, Scenes from Western Culture, The Boat (Stephan Stephensen, Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir and Gyða Valtýsdóttir), 2015 © Ragnar Kjartansson; Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik


Ragnar Kjartansson: Scenes from Western Culture

Scenes from Western Culture explores Ragnar Kjartansson’s fascination with social norms, theatrical artifice, and idle pleasure in an homage to French Rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.

Scenes from Western Culture (2015) is a nine-screen installation of looping videos, each depicting a faintly absurd and occasionally ominous vision of Western daily life. Drawing inspiration from Jean-Antoine Watteau’s pastoral scenes of 18th-century aristocrats enjoying their leisure, Kjartansson crafts intimate moments of modern-day characters lost in a similar frivolity. The exhibition juxtaposes Kjartansson’s work with Watteau’s painting The Fortune Teller (ca. 1710), on loan from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Kjartansson’s Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (2015) comprises numerous free-standing painted structures of snowy crags. The exposed plywood backs and supporting struts on the reverse side of each form reveals their theatrical function. Translated as “only he who knows longing” from a poem by Goethe, Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt champions the sublime and the mundane as one. The two installations are complemented by a selection of the artist’s preparatory watercolor sketches.


Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976) is an Icelandic artist whose work in video installations, performances, drawings, and paintings play on the history of film, music, visual culture, and literature. His pieces are connected through humor and pathos, with each deeply influenced by the comedy and tragedy of classical theater. Kjartansson’s use of duration and repetition to harness collective emotion is a hallmark of his practice.

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