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2 people in a field
2 people in a field

Ragnar Kjartansson, Death Is Elsewhere, 2019, seven-channel video installation

Ragnar Kjartansson

Through Sept. 2. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

The first thing you notice about Ragnar Kjartansson’s “Death Is Elsewhere” is its incongruity. This multichannel video sits in a temporary black room built right into the atrium of the Lehman Wing of the Metropolitan Museum, where it’s surrounded by the Rembrandts, Vermeers and other Dutch masters that were recently rehung as the show “In Praise of Painting.” Seven huge, free-standing screens surround visitors with a misty green meadow view. Marching around the field are four musicians — two sets of mixed-sex twins — playing a brief but endlessly looping song built on the key phrase “Death is elsewhere as long as you want.”

Luckily, incongruity is the point. The lyric and the musicians’ tendency to disappear and reappear as they move from frame to frame both evoke the impossibility of grasping death while you’re still alive. This dance also takes place at Eldhraun, site of a historically destructive volcanic explosion, in the middle of one of Iceland’s white summer nights. And whether the dichotomy is life and death, or cynicism and sincerity, the implication is that one side’s inability to make sense of the other doesn’t invalidate either: We can still sing, make art and tell jokes.

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