founded in 2001


Ragnar Kjartansson

born 1976 in Reykjavik, Iceland; lives in Reykjavik

1997–2001: Studies at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts in Reykjavík

2000: Studies at the Royal Academy, Stockholm

During his studies, he has personal encounters with American conceptual artist John Baldessari and performance artists Carolee Schneemann and Marina Abramović

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

As the son of actor Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir and theater director Kjartan Ragnarsson, Ragnar Kjartansson had early exposure to theater and music.

The repeating themes of his works are the artist as subject and his ideas about his role as well as his life and work, which he explores in the framework of performances. Extreme perseverance and the physical effort connected with that are often formal characteristics of his work, staged for photographic as well as cinematic recordings.

Kjartansson’s first work, Me and My Mother (2000) shows how his mother spat on him in front of a bookshelf. With conceptual consistency, the two repeat this scene every five years. In 2008 he staged himself for a photo as an impressionistic plein-air painter in The Blooming Trees Performance.


Kjartansson successfully made his international breakthrough in 2009 when he represented Iceland at the Biennale in Venice. In his performative mise-en-scène of The End, he made a painting of a male model in swimming trunks at the Palazzo Michiel del Brusà on the Canale Grande every day for six months. Here, he uses the topos of the painter persistently working on the same subject and the cliché of drinking beer and smoking in the studio. The pictures and empty bottles accumulate in the temporary studio as remnants of these actions. In the next room, a video is shown, which conveys another image of the creative person. Shot in the snow of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, Kjartansson and musician Davíd Thór Jónsson play a peculiar country music arrangement. In 2014, Kjartansson staged the film The Palace of the Summerland based on the draft of World Light (Heimsljós) by the Icelandic author Halldór Laxness in the exhibition space of the TBA21 Thyssen Contemporary in Vienna’s Augarten with a troupe of musicians, actors, costume designers, camera operators, and technical crew. The exhibition space was turned into a film studio for the performance, which took place over several hours every day in front of a live audience.

Author: Lena Nieper



Kjartansson chose to study art because it offered more freedom than classical music or theater studies. However, he continued to pursue his penchant for music during this time. After completing his studies in 2001, he worked at an advertising company and ultimately joined the electro-clash band Trabant as a singer. In 2005, the band put out its album Emotion, a highpoint in its history. It includes the songs »Nasty Boy« and »The One,« which were successful in Iceland. The latter received the 2007 Icelandic Music Award for the best music video.

As always, Kjartansson maintained a close relationship with the Icelandic music scene. He joined Kjartan Sveinsson, a former member of the group Sigur Ros, to realize the theater piece Krieg at the Volksbühne Berlin. He played for six hours straight in the Moma PS1 with the band The National Moma, performing »A Lot of Sorrow« in a loop.

His pictorial creations have many crossovers with music. Kjartansson himself speaks of an art »An die Musik« (To Music), based on a song title by Franz Schubert. His installation The Visitors, which was created in 2012 for the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich, consists of nine videos. The film was shot at Rokeby Farm, an estate owned by the Astor family in upstate New York. In nine different rooms, interior and exterior, at this stately mansion, one or more people sing a song by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Kjartansson’s ex-wife, repeated for several hours. The musicians are assigned to different places and are connected to each other with headphones, as in a recording studio. The individual videos run simultaneously next to each other in the exhibition. While their interaction can be heard from the middle of the room, each video allows only certain instruments to be perceived.
In 2013, at the Biennale in Venice, Ragnar Kjartansson let a boat, the SS Hangover, set sail every hour from the basin of the Arsenale. Looking a bit like a Viking vessel, it sailed under the flag of a fat, winged Pegasus, which, for Kjartansson, is a symbol of the artist’s striving for unknown heights. During the short trip, a wind sextet plays loud music on board that is audibly sad and filled with pathos.

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition


The One, 2006, with Vidar Hákon Gíslason (guit., bass guit.), Thorvaldur H. Gröndal (dr.), Ragnar Kjartansson (voc.), Gísli Galdur Thorgeirsson (turntable), Hlynur Adils Vilmarsson (keyboard), 3:33 min.

Film: Reynir Lyngdal, Courtesy of the artists

Kjartansson thematizes the cliché of pop bands in this video.


Lena Nieper