Ragnar Kjartansson: Scenes from Western Culture
Ragnar Kjartansson’s Scenes from Western Culture and Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt explore the artist’s fascination with social norms, theatrical artifice, and idle pleasure in an homage to French Rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721).
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 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.
Scenes from Western Culture is accompanied by a daily presentation of videos by Cory Arcangel, Chip Lord, Tony Oursler, Pipilotti Rist, Jacolby Satterwhite, and C. Spencer Yeh in MFA’s Screening Room.
Opening Reception | Saturday, June 2 | 5 – 8 pm
Screening Room Program
Scenes from Western Culture is accompanied by a daily presentation of single-channel videos by Cory Arcangel, Chip Lord, Tony Oursler, Pipilotti Rist, Jacolby Satterwhite, and C. Spencer Yeh. MFA’s rotation of videos by contemporary artists in the Screening Room offers complementary perspectives on themes found in Ragnar Kjartansson: Scenes from Western Culture. Using the language of popular entertainment—pop-music, performance, and cinema—Kjartansson wryly critiques the ubiquity of Western representational styles that idealize and channel desire in highly commodifiable ways. The video artists featured in the Screening Room contribute their own visual twists and rhythmical riffs on the banal spectacle of Western culture.
This summer’s program has been developed in collaboration with Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.
Stories: Philip-Lorca diCorcia & Constance DeJong
Stories features photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s A Storybook Life (1978-1999) and writer and performer Constance DeJong’s Radios (2015-ongoing). Through images, audio, and objects, the artists’ fragmented narratives invite viewers to become an active part of storytelling.
DiCorcia’s A Storybook Life creates a dreamland straddling documentary and staged photography through tableaus of domestic situations using friends and family as models. The work is arranged in a particular, nonlinear order, with only four complete sets in existence.
For Radios, DeJong presents a set of vintage radios simultaneously playing intimate and disarming narratives. She says: “The speaking voice disconnected from a body can invoke intense listening, a kind of attention like no other.”
Stories is curated by Kevin Moore.