Though Hunt Slonem’s ‘Antebellum Pop!’ at the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge was my favorite exhibit of 2016, Ragnar Kjartansson’s ‘The Visitors’ at the Frist in Nashville was a close second — and it was so beautiful and haunting that it made me cry (not alone), so there’s that.
Its last day at the Frist is Sunday, February 12.
Done in nine video projections over the course of about an hour, eight screens (the ninth on the veranda) show a musician in a room of an old, shabby-gorgeous New York home playing an instrument and singing with all the others — all in one incredible take. They can’t see each other until the end as they come together on the veranda and then walk down the valley.
Over and over, the refrain “once again, I fall into my feminine ways” is sung — it comes from a poem Ragnar’s ex-wife wrote.
…Kjartansson made this piece to reflect, as he says, a period of his life coming to an end…
A choir is gathered on the veranda and as the piece crescendoes one resident sets off an ornamental cannon. It’s the 1812 Overture rewritten for some protracted marital strife…
As Sebastian Smee of the Boston Globe had it:
The work seems to me to be a generational masterpiece. When it screened at the Luhring Augustine Gallery in Manhattan last year, it was a tear-away success. Years from now, it may even be remembered as having helped trigger a change in the climatic conditions of contemporary art.
Aside from anything else, “The Visitors” is a triumph of tone. Alive to the preposterousness of its premise — a bunch of hipster musicians from Iceland squatting in a grand home on the Hudson (shades of the Rolling Stones recording “Exile on Main Street” in a mansion on the French Riviera) in order to perform a repetitive, rather unremarkable song — it somehow transforms latent irony into sincere and open-hearted expression.
From Art in America:
After you’ve heard the “feminine” refrain about 40 times it seems almost liturgical, evoking a state where sorrow, resignation, acceptance and elation coexist. Near the end, the performers, still singing, vacate their separate spaces to move outside, joined by others from the porch. All of them—accompanied by two excited dogs—parade down the hill directly into the spectacular Hudson Valley landscape, and it’s heartbreakingly gorgeous: a sublime musical troupe in the capital of the American sublime.
From the John Curtain Gallery in 2015:
Not to miss. If we bump into each other at the Frist between now and Sunday, we can have a good therapeutic cry together, then walk out joyously into the valley (or at least down Broadway). See you then.