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Ragnar Kjartansson’s “The Visitors” on view at the MFAH this summer

Recent acquisition adds to the Museum’s growing collection of digital art

HOUSTON—June 2019—This summer, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents The Visitors, a video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson, a renowned Icelandic artist who is well-known for his musical performances that use time and repetition. The Visitors (2012) is a recent joint acquisition and restricted gift of the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Phoenix Art Museum; and Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition will be on view from July 20 to September 22, 2019.

The Visitors, an immersive, nine-screen video installation, highlights Kjartansson’s use of durational performance to capture collective emotion. Each frame of the installation features a different musician—a cellist, a pianist, a banjo player, an accordionist, a drummer, and two guitarists—who play together simultaneously, but in separate rooms, surrounded by the faded glamour of the Rokeby Farm House in Hudson Valley, New York. A designated historic landmark, the house was built in 1815 on the 400-acre estate owned by the descendants of the Astor family, who purchased the property in 1836.

“The music from Kjartansson’s piece will echo through its galleries, fully immersing visitors in his work,” said Gary Tinterow, director, MFAH. “In addition to offering this unique experience this summer, I am delighted to announce this important addition to the Museum’s growing permanent collection.”

“Viewers of Kjartansson’s work will find themselves within, not merely watching, an inspiring performance, as they become ‘visitors’ themselves, moving screen to screen, or rather room to room of the Rokeby Farm house,” said Kanitra Fletcher, assistant curator, modern and contemporary Art, MFAH.

Filmed in a single take, the musicians performing in The Visitors repeat lines from the poem “Feminine Ways,” by artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, serving as lyrics sung by the artists. During the 64-minute performance, the group performs and sings lines from the following poem, repeating the chorus, “Once again I fall into / My feminine ways,” over and over again with ever-changing approaches to the tone, mood, and cadence of the lyrics.

“A pink rose, / In the glittery frost, / A diamond heart, / And the orange red fire
Once again I fall into, / My feminine ways
You protect the world from me, / As if I’m the only one’s who’s cruel,
You’ve taken me, / To the bitter end
Once again I fall into, / My feminine ways
There are stars exploding, / And there’s nothing you can do.”

Finally, still singing, the group convenes in the main room and onto one screen. They pop a bottle of champagne, parade out of the house and down a hill, figuring as a merry band of troubadours entering a Hudson River School tableau. Kjartansson’s The Visitors amounts to a dynamic and moving experience, one which yields evolving and unexpected meanings in every note, word, and gesture.  

About the Artist
Ragnar Kjartansson (born 1976) lives and works in Reykjavík. The artist has had solo exhibitions at the Reykjavík Art Museum; the Barbican Centre, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich; the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; the Frankfurter Kunstverein; and the BAWAG Contemporary, Vienna. Kjartansson participated in The Encyclopedic Palace at the Venice Biennale in 2013, Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2014, and he represented Iceland at the 2009 Venice Biennale. The artist is the recipient of the 2015 Artes Mundi’s Derek Williams Trust Purchase Award, and Performa’s 2011 Malcolm McLaren Award.

Kjartansson’s strong background in theater and music is prominent in many of his works, including The End (2009); A Lot of Sorrow (2013); and The Palace of the Summerland (2014).

About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Established in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States, with an encyclopedic collection of nearly 70,000 works dating from antiquity to the present. The main campus comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo and opened in 2000; the Caroline Wiess Law Building, originally designed by William Ward Watkin, with extensions by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed in 1958 and 1974; the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1986; the Glassell School of Art, designed by Steven Holl Architects and opened in 2018; and The Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza, designed by Deborah Nevins & Associates and opened in 2018. Additional spaces include a repertory cinema, two libraries, public archives, and facilities for conservation and storage. Nearby, two house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi—present American and European decorative arts. The MFAH is also home to the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art. 

Organization & Funding
Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Generous funding for this exhibition is provided by:
John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation
Luhring Augustine
Nina and Michael Zilkha
Bettie Cartwright
Jereann and Holland Chaney

Media Contact
Sarah Hobson, publicist | 713.800.5345