Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976)

Mercy (2005)
Satan Is Real (2005)

Kjartansson trained as a painter at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, but soon concentrated on performance art. In a 2002 work called Death and the Children, he dressed up in a dark suit and carried a scythe, leading young children — who had no idea what the costume meant — through a cemetery, trying earnestly to answer their questions about fate. In his 2006 live performance Sorrow Conquers Happiness, captured in the video God, he wore a tuxedo and played the role of an 1940s nightclub crooner on a pink-draped stage with an orchestra, singing, “Sorrow conquers happiness” over and over as the music swelled. That same year, in his two-day piece The Blossoming Trees Performance, he assumed the role of plein-air painter in the mode of the Impressionists or Hudson River School artists at Rokeby Farm, a nearly 200-year-old house in the Hudson Valley. Kjartansson represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale in 2009, becoming the youngest to represent his country at 33.For his exhibition at Palazzo Michiel dal Brusa near the Rialto Bridge, the artist relentlessly painted the portrait of fellow Icelandic artist Páll Haukur Björnsson who poses before him in a black Speedo, cigarette and beer in hand.

In 2011, Kjartansson won the inaugural Malcolm Award at Performa 11, the visual art performance biennial. He won for his 12-hour work Bliss, which was performed without a break at the Abrons Arts Center involving repeated performances of the denouement of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, the moment when the count gets down on one knee and asks his wife for forgiveness, which she grants in an aria. Kristjan Johannson, an Icelandic tenor, played the count, with members of his master class in the other roles.