If you’ve been in the Bay Area since before 2017, you might remember this SFMOMA exhibition by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. The Visitors debuted in 2012 as a 9-screen, 360° immersive audiovisual masterpiece and was soon topping lists like The Guardian’s 25 best artworks of the 21st century. It wowed crowds at SFMOMA’s 2017 exhibition Soundtracks and was an audience favorite at the museum for months. Lucky for us, The Visitors is returning to SFMOMA starting November 5, 2022 all the way through January 2, 2024!
The Visitors features nine large video screens projecting Kjartansson and eight of his friends as they present an intimate musical composition. The result is an hour-long piece in a single take, presented from nine different musical perspectives that are both highly individualized and inextricably linked.
Each musician is wearing headphones so as to play simultaneously with the others, but as you walk around the installation you’ll have a chance to hear each musician as a part of the whole – there’s Kjartansson himself playing guitar in a bathtub, then additional performers each play a cello, an accordion, a banjo, a drum set, and more. They are singing emotional lyrics taken from the poem Feminine Ways by Kjartansson’s ex-wife, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir.
As you roam the installation, you’ll be transported to the ornate and romantic setting of Rokeby Farm in upstate New York. Each performer is stationed in a different room of a gorgeous historic mansion whose muted yet rich colors help to complement the ethereal mood created by the music.
The hour-long loop builds layers upon layers of sound and feeling. You can stay and listen to one performer for a while and let the others fade into the background, or meander through the different screens for a constantly-changing sound and visual experience. SFMOMA describes it as “a place where reality merges with fiction, contradictory feelings of sorrow blend with happiness, and moments of humor turn to emotional catharsis.”
Save the date for The Visitors, Again!, opening November 5 at SFMOMA.
Featured image: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Museum of Modern Art, New York; acquired through the generosity of Mimi Haas and Helen and Charles Schwab; © Ragnar Kjartansson; photo: Katherine Du Tiel