In the rarified setting of a modern art foundation north of Copenhagen, the sophisticated atmosphere is interrupted by the blast of a shotgun. The international gallery crowd seems unperturbed. After all, what’s a gunshot or two when you are surrounded by the many provocations of Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson? Visitors have been introduced to this exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art by videos in which Kjartansson’s own mother spits in his face.
The shots are part of another piece from 2007, made just a few months before the collapse of the Icelandic economy: A man in a winter landscape (played by the Icelandic comedian Laddi) loads his gun and shoots it aimlessly into the air. He carries his cartridges in a yellow plastic shopping bag, a reference to the Bonus supermarket chain whose owner was implicated in the financial crisis. His pointless but repeated shots punctuate another persistent sound in the gallery: the drone-like song from Mercy, a 2004 video in which Kjartansson himself appears as country crooner with slicked-back hair, repeating the lyric “Oh why do I keep on hurting you?” for more than 60 minutes.
The Louisiana Museum, located about 40 kilometres north of Copenhagen in the leafy town of Humlebaek, is a tantalizing place – both bucolic and assertive. Established in the 1950s by Knud Jensen, the heir to a cheese wholesaling fortune, it is nestled in a modernist sculpture garden set on a cliff overlooking the sound that faces Sweden, and features a big-name collection of postwar art displayed in a honeycomb of low buildings and subterranean galleries. All that is very pleasant, but the real draw is a rich program of temporary exhibitions and this summer a retrospective devoted to the Icelandic trickster is Europe’s hot ticket.
On a recent Sunday, hip Danes and savvy tourists crowded into the show, entitled Epic Waste of Love and Understanding, to experience 20 years’ worth of Kjartansson’s videos, a suite of paintings created for the 2009 Venice Biennale and a continuing performance where an actor sidesteps his precarious way along a high ledge in a museum stairwell. The tongue-in-cheek title – is it the artist or the audience who are wasting their sympathetic efforts? – is typical of Kjartansson’s mischievous probing of the line between art and cultural cliché.
Canadians may know Kjartansson’s work from Death is Elsewhere, the hypnotic 2019 video installation in-the-round that features two sets of singing twins slowly circling the viewer in a volcanic landscape, and which showed at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 2020. Or they may remember what is probably Kjartansson’s most famous work, The Visitors, a nine-screen installation in which the artist and friends play music simultaneously but separately in different rooms of an old mansion in upstate New York. Unveiled at Zurich’s Migros Museum in 2012, it showed at Montreal’s Musée d’art contemporain in 2016. (The latter installation is included in the Louisiana show; the former is not.)
These works are poignantly lyrical: The Visitors, named for ABBA’s last album, speaks hauntingly of human connection through music; Death is Elsewhere was shot at the site of a devastating 18th-century volcanic eruption. Notably, this retrospective reveals how Kjartansson developed two key approaches – repetition and duration – in his earlier, more provocative pieces yet also mellowed considerably in recent work. The video where his mother, the Icelandic actress Gudrun Asmundsdottir, spits in his face was first shot in 2000 and is repeated every five years against the same bookcase in the artist’s childhood home. Mother and son gradually age but the uncomfortable humour of the piece, undercutting enduring notions of maternal affection with a classic gesture of contempt, remains.
It’s one of many works where Kjartansson tested the viewer’s endurance. Colonization, a video from 2003, shows a Danish aristocrat in a wig berating and beating an Icelandic peasant (played by Kjartansson himself). It’s a satirical reference to Denmark’s long colonization of Iceland, which only gained its full independence in 1944. Like some slasher movie, the over-the-top piece directly challenges the viewer’s ability to watch as the blood flows and the peasant screams in pain.
Of course, Kjartansson’s 2013-2014 collaboration with the American band the National, in which they repeated their 2010 hit song Sorrow for six hours, also challenges the viewer’s stamina. At Louisiana, people came and went; few seemed likely to do the full marathon.
The Venice paintings of 2009 represent a different kind of marathon: During a six-month residency in a studio on the Grand Canal, Kjartansson hung out with his friend, the artist Pall Haukur Bjornsson, and painted him 144 times, showing him lounging about in his Speedo, smoking and drinking. Mounted in chronological order in a crowded installation at the Louisiana, they offer a pointed undercutting of any notion of a male artistic genius – this guy is a slacker – just as Mercy mocks the macho self-pity of the country star.
That humour remains as Kjartansson’s work has progressed, but it’s far subtler. The stairwell performance at the Louisiana may seem obvious – will he fall? Will he jump? Will you look? – but the climax of the show is another remarkable video piece that sits between the silly and the sublime with a half-hour duration that again becomes hypnotic.
In No Tomorrow, a collaboration with choreographer Margret Bjarnadottir and composer Bryce Dessner, eight female guitarists – dancers from the Iceland Dance Company – perform simple but expressive movements all perfectly choreographed across separate screens. Dressed in jeans and white T-shirts, they strum slowly and intone the lyric “Oh babe, no tomorrow,” (a reference to the late 18th-century libertine social novel Point de lendemain, by the French writer Vivant Denon).
Louisiana positions the work politically between its live performance shortly after the inauguration of U.S. president Donald Trump and its video version dating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Originally conceived as a staged dance, the video adds an important new element because the dancers are initially isolated on separate screens but gradually come together on one, as though contradicting their depressive song.
Is it ridiculous to have hope? Scandinavia’s best court jester, Kjartansson performs on a knife edge between the naïve and the knowing.
Epic Waste of Love and Understanding continues at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, to Oct. 22.
What Makes Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915) Not Just Art, But Important Art
Who created the first work of abstract art has long been a fraught question indeed. Better, perhaps, to ask who first said of a work of art that a kid could have made it. A strong contender in that division is the Russian artist Véra Pestel, whom history remembers as having reacted to Kazimir Malevich‘s 1915 painting Black Square with the words “Anyone can do this! Even a child can do this!” Yes, writes novelist Tatyana Tolstaya a century later in the New Yorker, “any child could have performed this simple task, although perhaps children lack the patience to fill such a large section with the same color.” And in any case, time having taken its toll, Malevich’s square doesn’t look quite as black as it used to.
Nor was the square ever quite so square as we imagine it. “Its sides aren’t parallel or equal in length, and the shape isn’t quite centered on the canvas,” says the narrator of the animated TED-Ed lesson above. Instead, Malevich placed the form slightly off-kilter, giving it the appearance of movement, and the white surrounding it a living, vibrating quality.”
Fair enough, but is it art? If you’d asked Malevich himself, he might have said it surpassed art. In 1913, he “realized that even the most cutting-edge artists were still just painting objects from everyday life, but he was irresistibly drawn to what he called ‘the desert,’ where nothing is real except feeling.” Hence his invention of the style known as Suprematism, “a departure from the world of objects so extreme, it went beyond abstraction.”
Malevich made bold claims for Suprematism in general and Black Square in particular. “Up until now there were no attempts at painting as such, without any attribute of real life,” he wrote. “Painting was the aesthetic side of a thing, but never was original and an end in itself.” As Tolstaya puts it, he “once and for all drew an uncrossable line that demarcated the chasm between old art and new art, between a man and his shadow, between a rose and a casket, between life and death, between God and the Devil. In his own words, he reduced everything to the ‘zero of form.’” She calls this zero’s emergence in such a stark form “one of the most frightening events in art in all of its history of existence.” If so, here we have an argument for not letting young children see Black Square and enduring the consequent nightmares — even if they could have painted it themselves.
New Spider-Man Art Features Web Slinger in Various Activities
Being Spider-Man is about so much more than webbing up bad guys. Spider-Man is the neighborhood guy. He gives back to the community. He protects the community. There’s swinging, there’s fighting, there’s dangling, and sure, sometimes he has to traverse the multiverse and see all his alternative versions.
In a new print series from artist Oliver Barrett though, we focus on the simple stuff. Spider-Man just being Spider-Man. Seven prints, available individually or as a series, each showing Spider-Man at his ground-level best. The pieces are from a collaboration Barrett did with Restoration Games/Unmatched and are being released via Bottleneck Gallery and Acme Archives on October 3.
Each piece is a hand-numbered, 10 x 10 inch giclée in various edition sizes and they’ll be available individually (for $30 each) or as a set (for $200) on the Bottleneck Gallery site at noon ET October 3. Check out all the images in our slideshow.
Kelsey Grammer Curates an Exquisite Art Collection New ‘Frasier’ Reboot Posters
Dr. Frasier Crane has always been an admirer of the finer things in life, and artwork is no different, which is why it feels fitting that, in preparation for his return to our screens, television’s most renowned psychiatrist poses alongside striking pieces of art in new posters designed to promote the launch of Paramount+’s upcoming reboot series, Frasier. The series follows Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) as he enters the next chapter of his life. Viewers will see him return to Boston which will come with its own set of challenges, relationships, and even dreams. Frasier has finally re-entered the building.
While the first of two newly-released posters show Grammer next to a striking collection of statues, the second poster emphasizes the start of the new chapter in his life. In addition to Grammer, the new series stars Jack Cutmore-Scott as Frasier’s son Freddy; Nicholas Lyndhurst as Frasier’s old college buddy turned university professor Alan; Toks Olagundoye as Olivia, Alan’s colleague and head of the university’s psychology department; Jess Salgueiro as Freddy’s roommate Eve; and Anders Keith as Frasier’s nephew David.
The new iteration of Frasier comes from writers Chris Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Joe Cristalli (Life in Pieces), who executive produce with Grammer, Tom Russo and Jordan McMahon. The series is produced by CBS Studios, in association with Grammer’s Grammnet NH Productions. The first two episodes of the new series are directed by legendary director and television creator James Burrows, who is best known for his work as co-creator, executive producer, and director of the critically acclaimed series Cheers, as well as the original Frasier series, Will & Grace and Dear John. The series is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution outside of the Paramount+ markets.
The Legacy of Frasier Crane
The original series, which aired from 1993 to 2004, had an impressive 11-season run and earned numerous awards and honors. It was a major success at the Primetime Emmy Awards, winning an incredible 37 Emmys throughout its time on the air. This accomplishment set a historic record for the most Emmys ever won by a TV show at that point in time. The awards covered a wide range of categories, including recognition for Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actor (Grammer), Supporting Actor (David Hyde Pierce in the role of Niles Crane), and Supporting Actress (Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith Sternin), among others.
The upcoming series will premiere in the U.S. and Canada on Thursday, October 12, with two episodes, and on Friday, October 13, in all other international markets where Paramount+ is available. New episodes will then drop weekly on Thursdays, exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. and Canada, and on Fridays, internationally. In addition, the CBS Television Network will broadcast a special airing of the first two episodes back to back on Tuesday, October 17, beginning at 9:15 p.m. ET/PT. Until then, check out the new posters below:
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