Art and music in harmony; Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson presents a new performance piece, The Sky In A Room, currently at National Museum Cardiff. Rachel Mainwaring found out more...
In 2015, following his participation in the Artes Mundi 6 exhibition, Kjartansson was awarded the Derek Williams Trust Artes Mundi Prize, which enables National Museum of Wales to purchase artworks by Artes Mundi shortlisted artists.
The purchase was made possible thanks to the support of the Derek Williams Trust and the Art Fund, and will become part of Wales' contemporary art collection at National Museum Cardiff which includes works by Rodin, Bridget Riley, Monet and Lucien Freud.
This is the first time that a work by Kjartansson has been commissioned for a UK public collection and the first acquisition of a performance by National Museum Wales.
This new commission will merge historical and contemporary art forms in a space where the visitor becomes witness to a dreamlike, surreal and sometimes humorous environment typical of Kjartansson's practice.
Centred on the 1774 Sir Watkin Williams Wynn's organ, a key feature of National Museum Cardiff 's 18th century British art gallery, the performance will include the removal of the full collection of paintings, exposing the ornately patterned turquoise wall fabric and isolating the organ and the performer.
The organ was made for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn for his London house in St James' Square. Williams Wynn is known for being the greatest patron of the arts Wales has ever produced. In the late 1760s he travelled Europe collecting Old Masters paintings and commissioning works by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding president of the Royal Academy, as well as enabling dozens of architects, painters and musicians to produce some of their best work.
The song at the centre of the durational performance is an Italian pop song called "Il Cielo In Una Stanza" (The Sky in a Room), written by one of Italy's most celebrated songwriters Gino Paoli.
Across a five-week period, for six hours a day, a series of organists will perform the song, bridging the gap between the 18th century organ, Paolo Gino's 1959 hit and Kjartansson's contemporary performance.
Kjartansson said: "The Sky in a Room is to be set in a blue room exhibiting 18th century British paintings. I want to do a piece about space, the transformation of space in that lovely room. This solitary space, usually filled with glorious artwork, suddenly becomes empty. Then Il Cielo In Una Stanza is to be played constantly on the ancient organ. It is a song all Italians know, it is almost the Italian national anthem of love. An ode to the transformation of space in that grand blue organ room."
Known for videos and performances in which music and repetition play an important role, attaining a quasi-hypnotic quality, Kjartansson will draw on these practices to enact The Sky in a Room.
Nicholas Thornton, head of contemporary art, National Museum Wales, said: "The Sky in a Room will be the first performance work to enter the museum's permanent collection and adds to our growing collection of contemporary art at National Museum Cardiff.
"We are very excited to own this fantastic new work by Ragnar Kjartansson, one of the world's finest performance artists."
Artes Mundi director and curator Karen MacKinnon said: "We are really excited about extending Artes Mundi's legacy and fuelling a portal to international art here in Wales. Working with the National Museum Wales to bring back an Artes Mundi artist and developing a site-specific commission that resonates with this community, this place and being able to purchase that work is amazing."
| The Sky In A Room by Ragnar Kjartansson runs until March 11
<B The Sir Watkin Williams Wynn organ in the museum gallery. Left, Ragnar Kjartansson