The Guardian

The Visitors, Ragnar Kjartansson

One of the most mesmerizing works of contemporary art I’ve seen lately was a video installation called The Visitors by Icelandic artist, Ragnar Kjartansson, at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco two years ago. I went to MoMA not knowing what would be shown. Had I known this piece would be there, I would have gone just for that. It was that good.

I was in San Francisco for a group showing that included my artwork. My art dealer, an all-around delightful guy and modern-art lover (well all art lover, really) and I went to MoMA together and we were both transfixed as we watched the entire 64 minutes of The Visitors.

I was going to describe the whole thing for you, but there’s a great description of it in this interview with Ragnar Kjartannson in The Guardian. Do check it out before reading the rest.…/ragnar-kjartansson-the…

What was so great about it? First of all it was a totally immersive experience. There were nine very large video screens, each with its own sound in a room just huge enough to display all the screens and hold lots of people without feeling like a warehouse. You had room to move around but the feeling was still intimate.

Some people took it in as they sat or sprawled on the floor in one place the whole time, while others moved about. Some of us walked to different positions or stopped or sat.

The whole work was pretty high tech, what with all the screens and sound. Having all those musicians in separate rooms and recording music together seemed at the time it was made (2012) quite a feat. (Now, in the time of the COVID, it’s the order of the day.)

But the song was so melancholy and the couple of lines they sang so repetitious…and they had a very anachronistic hippie appearance and the mansion had become very shabby. There was a romantic, hypnotic quality to it all. It was like high-tech retro.

The musicians were in all different situations. The artist was playing his guitar and singing in the bathtub and smoking a cigar. One of the men sat on a bed with a woman who appeared to just be wearing a sheet lying behind him. It was so bloody eccentric! Oh! And there was a cannon out on the lawn they fired off!

I just read in that article in the Guardian that they named it “Best Artwork of the 21st Century.” Right on, Guardian!