Four-day Exhibition with Live Performance of Popular Love Songs throughout Museum Rotunda
Exhibition: Ragnar Kjartansson: Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Dates: July 2–5, 2021
(NEW YORK, NY – June 1, 2021) — From July 2 to 5, Ragnar Kjartansson: Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It is the third project within Re/Projections: Video, Film, and Performance for the Rotunda, a series of four distinct presentations that reimagine the Guggenheim’s rotunda as a space for navigating tensions between collective and individual experience.
Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy is organized by Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and Media, with Terra Warren, Curatorial Assistant. Originally commissioned by C Project and curated by Tom Eccles, the piece premiered at the Women’s Building, San Francisco, in 2018.
In his videos, performances, and installations, Ragnar Kjartansson stages durational actions based in the emotional and historical power of music and popular culture. Growing up in a theatrical family, Kjartansson witnessed the hard work of running lines, rehearsing, and putting on the same productions night after night. This generative monotony inspired him to structure his artworks around rhythm, repetition, and endurance. Each of his projects begins with a simple refrain—usually a song—that is then performed, over and over again, for an extended period. As these looping recitations unfurl, the absurdity of Kjartansson’s conceit gives way to poignant meditations on strength, resiliency, and the range of expression possible within limited scripts.
In Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy, women and nonbinary singer-guitarists stationed throughout the Guggenheim play cherished songs of love and romance by some of the world’s great songwriters, including Bruce Springsteen, Cat Stevens, and Lil Wayne. However, visitors soon discover that these tracks harbor a dark side: mostly written by men about women, they gently—and not so gently—reveal how popular culture is shaped by chauvinism, objectification, and gender violence.
Performing these songs on repeat for hours at a time, the musicians must personally bear the emotional and physical burden of the lyrics’ content. Yet they also join in a collective ritual that imagines new possibilities for endurance, reclamation, and even joy. At once a celebration of pop music and a charged environment of critique, Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy creates a space where contradictions—between individual and group, oppression and liberation, rhythm and chaos—exist together within a community of collaboration and mutual support.
Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy will feature approximately two dozen musicians, including many from the original San Francisco presentation, as well as many performers from the local New York community, who were cast through an open call. The musical directors are Kjartan Sveinsson and Kendra McKinley, who have created new arrangements of the songs to adapt them to the choral nature of the piece.
Ragnar Kjartansson: Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy is part of Re/Projections: Video, Film, and Performance for the Rotunda, a 2021 series comprising In Between Days: Video from the Guggenheim Collections (March 19 to April 19), organized by Nat Trotman; Christian Nyampeta: Sometimes It Was Beautiful (April 30 to June 21), organized by Xiayou Weng, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Associate Curator; and Wu Tsang: Anthem (working title, July 23 to September 6), organized by X Zhu-Nowell, Assistant Curator.
Each of these four varied presentations draws on the building’s unique capacity for distanced gathering to create frameworks for dialogue and mutual care. The experimental approach behind Re/Projections is designed to privilege multiple voices while remaining nimble in a moment of economic and public health crises. With its focus on video, film, and performance, the series also celebrates acts of embodiment, storytelling, and interpersonal connection. As audiences convene in the Guggenheim’s landmark space, they will encounter new visions for navigating tensions between collective and individual experience, asking how we might live together better in an increasingly polarized world.
Support for Ragnar Kjartansson: Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy has been provided by Luhring Augustine Gallery; i8 Gallery, Reykjavík; Marieluise Hessel; Marguerite Steed Hoffman; and the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund.
About the Artist
Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976) lives and works in Reykjavík. He has had major solo exhibitions and performances at the Dallas Museum of Art; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine (both 2019–20); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (both 2019); National Museum Wales, Cardiff (2018); Barbican Art Gallery, London; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Copenhagen Contemporary (all 2016–17); MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass.; The Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (all 2016); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015–16); New Museum, New York; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (all 2014); and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2011–12). The artist’s work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions including A Journey That Wasn’t, The Broad, Los Angeles (2018–19); Double Lives: Visual Artists Making Music, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna (2018); You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC (2018); Sound in Motion, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (2015–17); Framing Desire: Photography and Video, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Tex. (2015); among others. The artist represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale in 2019. In 2019, Kjartansson received the Ars Fennica Award, and in 2011, the Malcolm McLaren Award. Kjartansson studied at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, Reykjavík, and at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm.
About the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was established in 1937 and is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of modern and contemporary art through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The international constellation of museums includes the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; and the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. An architectural icon and “temple of spirit” where radical art and architecture meet, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is now among a group of eight Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the United States recently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. To learn more about the museum and the Guggenheim’s activities around the world, visit guggenheim.org.
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