Palais de Tokyo is presenting the first solo show in France of the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson (born in 1976, lives and works in Reykjavik). In a poetic and surprising manner, the exhibition portrays everyday desires, longing for the transcendent, blurring the boundary between mundane and sublime.

New works specially conceived for the exhibition will be shown, including Bonjour (2015), a spectacular performance that takes place on a full-scale set of a picturesque village square in France and shows a brief, fleeting encounter of a man and a woman. Scenes from Western Culture (2015), another new work on show, comprises a set of idyllic Watteau inspired cinematic paintings, a large video installation celebrating and lamenting Western desires: a speed boat scene on a Swiss lake, a couple making love in cozy minimal interiors, an afternoon swim, the burning of a forest cabin, upper class children playing in a Munich garden, etc.

Seul celui qui connait le désir (2015) are large scale free standing paintings of icy mountains and rocks, in the tradition of theatre set painting. Wood pretends to be a rock, in obvious deception. These massive objects are full of longing; for beauty, transcendence, something else, and, thus, illustrate the tension between the mundane and the sublime.

Ragnar Kjartansson’s singular work is a cross between performance and cinema, sculpture and opera, plein air painting and music. He often produces large-scale multidisciplinary projects and the production of his works often requires the collaboration of several participants – actors, musicians, friends and family members. “Experimenting the mechanisms of theatre and the dramatic impulses of tragedy, Ragnar Kjartansson succeeds in bringing emotions out of melodramatic actions and in revealing the reality on which relies every actor’s or singer’s interpretation” — Julien Fronsacq

The exhibition project conceived by Ragnar Kjartansson for Palais de Tokyo follows a meaningful series of experiences inspired by World Light (1937-1940), the Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness’ well-known four volume epic novel. Considered as the masterpiece of this leading figure of 20th century Icelandic literature, as well as some sort of bible for a lot of artists in the country, the book tells the tragic and eminently romantic story of a cursed poet.

Elaborated in both Berlin and Reykjavik, hand-in-hand with the composer Kjartan Sveinsson, founding member of the Sigur Rós band, Ragnar Kjartansson created a lyrical adaptation of the book. Titled The Explosive Sonics of Divinity (2014), the work breaks with the conventions of the operatic genre, replacing the actors by setting elements. Painted by the artist himself, the set reproduces romantic clichéd landscapes.

Also on view in Palais de Tokyo is World Light (2015), a video work based on a performance titled The Palace of the Summerland (2014), where Ragnar Kjartansson & friends transformed the Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary exhibition space (Vienna, Austria) into a film set. Over a four-week period, the novel World Light by Halldór Laxness was filmed there. In collaboration with twenty-some artist friends and family members, Ragnar Kjartansson produced a constantly evolving show that revealed the entire production of the film, from rehearsals to costume design and filming. The video is several hours long and thus reflects the length of the book as well as the ambition of its protagonist, an impoverished poet who tirelessly searches for a way to follow his non-negotiable passion for beauty and poetry, which leads to poverty, incest, suicide, and occasional blooming flowers of beauty.

“Repetition is an important factor in (…) changing the linear [time] into situational. I think that as an artist I can bring certain elements into theater or borrow theatrical elements for my work, but my point of reference will always be outside of it.”(1) — Ragnar Kjartansson

Bonjour will repeat daily and during the entire length of the exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, the charm of this fleeting encounter between a man and a woman. The artist fancifully explores the art of staging a story – from the dullest anecdote to the epic – renewing not only the performance, but the visitor’s experience also.

“While the concept of duration was central to the performance art of the 1970s, for Kjartansson, it is only a formal tool; he has little interest in exploring the body’s physical limits. For content, he instead often turns to what many consider performance art’s antithesis, theater.”(4)

In Scenes from Western Culture, an ensemble of short films that depicts desirable moments of everyday life, “the difference between the subjects contributes to the tragicomic aspect of a Western culture, reduced here to a few anecdotal scenes.” (Julien Fronsacq)

Lastly, some of the works presented at Palais de Tokyo, such as Raging Pornographic Sea (2012) and Me and My Mother (2000, 2005, 2010, 2015), combine questionings about infinite loops with the theme of filiation. This theme is essential to the artist’s process, where fiction and reality seem to blur together more than ever.

Ragnar Kjartansson was born in 1976 in Reykjavik (Iceland), where he lives and works. He studied at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and he represented Iceland at the 2009 Venice Biennale. He has won major international recognition in the past few years and his work has been widely exhibited in a number of solo shows in Europe and in the United States. Following his second appearance at the Venice Biennale in 2013 with his project “S.S. Hangover”, he presented “The Visitors” at the ICA in Boston and at the Guggenheim in Bilbao in 2014. A large-scale solo exhibition titled “Me, My Mother, My Father, and I” was also staged in 2014 at the New Museum in New York.

Curator: Julien Fronsacq


1 Ragnar Kjartansson, interview by Markús Thór Andrésson “Ragnar Kjartansson - A Simple Act of Forgiveness”, Flash Art, Nr. 281, November-December 2011, pp. 78-81.

2 Markús Thór Andrésson, “The Lure of Repetition”, Parkett, Nr. 94, 2014.