IKOB is pleased to present Ragnar Kjartansson’s video work Death and The Children, which documents a 2002 performance by the artist in the main cemetery of Reykjavik, Iceland.
On a sunny summer camp day, a group of children are taking part in a guided tour of the cemetery when Kjartansson emerges from a crypt wearing make-up and a gloomy costume, pretending to be Death himself. The children go back and forth between belief and disbelief but do not hesitate to seize the opportunity of this unusual encounter with Death. What follows is an open discussion of existential questions and a debate about the quality of the performance and the artist’s props. In black and white and against a highly symbolic backdrop, Death and The Children takes apart a seemingly difficult subject with humor and without taboo.

The film resonates with the paintings of Yann Freichels, whose strange compositions deal with uncanny themes and are full of symbolism that is heavy with meaning and playful at the same time. The myths and archetypes of childhood are juxtaposed with visual and literal quotations from world history. The result is an exhilarating contrast between earnestness and comedy, ornamentation and raw realism.


Ragnar Kjartansson Death and the Children, 2002, Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik

Ragnar Kjartansson engages multiple artistic mediums, creating video installations, performances, drawings, and paintings that draw upon myriad historical and cultural references.  An underlying pathos and irony connect his works, with each deeply influenced by the comedy and tragedy of classical theater. The artist blurs the distinctions between mediums, approaching his painting practice as performance, likening his films to paintings, and his performances to sculpture. Throughout, Kjartansson conveys an interest in beauty and its banality, and he uses durational, repetitive performance as a form of exploration.

Kjartansson (b. 1976) lives and works in Reykjavík. Major solo shows include exhibitions at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Reykjavík Art Museum; the Barbican Centre, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Park, Washington D.C.; the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich; the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; De Pont Museum, Tilburg; and the Louisiana Museum for Modern Art, Humlebæk, among others. Kjartansson participated in The Encyclopedic Palace at the Venice Biennale in 2013, Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2014, and he represented Iceland at the 2009 Venice Biennale. The artist received the 2019 Ars Fennica Award, and was the recipient of the 2015 Artes Mundi’s Derek Williams Trust Purchase Award, and Performa’s 2011 Malcolm McLaren Award.