Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012. Nine-channel video projection (color, sound; 64:00 minutes). Gift of Graham and Ann Gund to Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and Gund Gallery at Kenyon College. Photo by Elísabet Davids. Courtesty the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík. © Ragnar Kjartansson
The first newly installed exhibition at the museum following months of closure during the global COVID-19 pandemic, Ragnar Kjartansson’s (b. 1976, Reykjavik, Iceland) The Visitors is a truly beloved artwork in the ICA’s permanent collection, one that continually inspires and moves our community. A sentimental portrayal of friendship, love, and loss, The Visitors is a monumental, nine-channel sound and video installation of a performance staged at Rokeby Farm, a historic 43-room estate in upstate New York. Each of the individual audio and video channels features musicians playing instruments either alone or in groups, isolated yet in unison, occupying different rooms of the romantically dilapidated estate. The musical composition coheres in the work’s installation, presenting a dynamic and moving ensemble performance Kjartansson refers to as a “feminine nihilistic gospel song.” Through its unique arrangement of music in space, The Visitors creates a layered portrait of the house and its musical inhabitants. For some, the prolonged experience of sheltering-in-place—characterized at times as being “alone together”—has dramatically changed our conception of home and our relationships to one another. As the museum reopens, we turn to this familiar work for its range of resonant themes, that it might offer comfort or healing, and knowing that our experience of it at this time will be different.