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Ragnar Kjartansson’s “The Visitors” Brings Bohemians, a Boy’s Choir, and a Blues Legend to Vienna’s TBA21

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For his latest collaboration with Francesca von Habsburg’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson presents two recent films and kicks off a new, long-term performance project with the Viennese institution. The exhibition’s central work (and title), “The Visitors” (2012) traces Kjartansson and a band of friends through a musically filled stay at the rundown country house of one of New York City’s former elite, the Livingston family. Now inhabited by their descendants as well as those of the Astor family, Kjartansson and his crew take up various rooms of the house as their stage, chanting a poem titled “Feminine Ways,” written by the artist’s ex, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir.

The piece was previously shown in 2012 at Zurich’s Migros Museum. However, for the TBA21 opening, Kjartansson commissioned a one-off supplementary performance to take place within the installation. For “Stars Exploding,” he invited the Boy’s choir of the Wiener Sängerknaben for something of a context-shifting sing along. Where Kjartansson and his friends embody rag-tag, Hudson Valley bohemianism in “The Visitors,” the boys’ classical training and buttoned up was simultaneously wonderfully ironic and heartwarming, as they repeated a single line of the poem again and again: “There are stars exploding and there’s nothing you can do.”

The show’s final, most subtle of works, “The Man” (2010), is documentary in character. Kjartansson traveled to the Mississippi bayou to film then 97 year old blues musician Pinetop Perkins play outdoors just months before he passed away.

See stills from the videos in “The Visitors” (through June 16) at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in the slideshow.

[Image: Ragnar Kjartansson, “The Visitors” (2012), Courtesy the artist and TBA21]

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