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Ragnar Kjartansson

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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
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New piece sees revolving organists perform 1969 hit song
Leading Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson is to present a brand new performance piece on an 18th-century musical instrument during his return to Wales in the New Year. The Sky in a Room, which has been co-commissioned by Artes Mundi and National Museum Wales, will be performed by Ragnar on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ at the National Museum Cardiff from 3 February to 11 March 2018. The exciting performance will see a series of revolving organists performing the 1969 hit song "Il Cielo In Una Stanza" (The Sky in a Room). Ragnar, who is a long-time friend and collaborator with Icelandic pop singer Bjork, is renowned for his performative artworks, receiving international acclaim for his 2016 solo exhibition at the Barbican.

Ragnar Kjartansson
Icelandic artist and performer Ragnar Kjartansson. Credit Elisabet Davids

In 2015, following his participation in the Artes Mundi 6 exhibition, Ragnar was awarded the 30,000 Derek Williams Trust purchase award, which enables National Museum of Wales to purchase artworks by Artes Mundi shortlisted artists. The purchase was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Derek Williams Trust and the Art Fund and will become part of Wales's 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 Ragnar Kjartansson has been commissioned for a UK public collection. The new commission will merge historical and contemporary art forms.

Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ. Credit National Museum Wales
The 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ

The Sky in a Room centres on the Sir Watkin Williams Wynn organ, which is 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 light-blue wall fabric and isolating the organ and the performer. The song at the centre of the 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. The song has featured in classic films throughout the 20th century including "Girl With A Suitcase" (1960) and Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (1990). Across the five-week period, for five hours a day, a revolving series of organists will perform the song.

Ragnar Kjartansson
Ragnar performs The Visitors in which he played guitar in a bath for several hours alongside other performers in a mansion in upstate New York.

Ragnar 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." 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, this building and being able to purchase that work is amazing."
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Why? Leading Icelandic Artist Performs New Piece On !8th Century Organ
When: 3 Feb - 11 March 2018
Phone: 0300 111 2333
Where: National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP
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