Icelandic Wit Is No Oxymoron
Last night in New York, Ragnar Kjartansson, Iceland’s hippest art-star, gave a charming talk for clients of the sales site artspace.com. He was eloquent and funny and smart, just like his art. And also a bit slick and glib, again like his art.
He talked about his performance at the 2009 Venice Biennale, where he spent all six months of the show painting and repainting one speedo-clad friend. He said the goal was to have the work start as a slacker insider’s joke, perfect for the with-it crowds of opening week. (One early moment from the piece is shown here.) And then, instead of neglecting all the coming months when normal people take in the show, his aim was to let them watch as his endurance work unfolded to a more serious place. “I wanted to make a piece that would be really bad at the opening, and really good at the end... There was this one gondoliere who taught me how to paint—he took pity on me.”
Some other bons mots:
–On why he didn’t follow in his parents’ thespian footsteps: “There’s enough exhibitionist actors in the world. But as an exhibitionist, I felt I had something to offer to art.”
–On why all his artmaking is also a performance: “With the 20th-century on your shoulders, what can you do but pretend to make art?”
–On innovation: “The luxury of being a 21st-century artist is that it’s impossible to be fresh... You cannot beat Duchamp.... You don’t worry about originality.”
Kjartansson’s wrong on this last point. Artists only get attention and success if they are somehow salient. And salience requires difference. And difference is innovation’s Siamese twin. We go to a Kjartansson talk because he is salient, and different—and innovative.
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