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Art installation of paintings hung salon style
Installation view: To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow!, GES-2 House of Culture, Moscow, 2021–22.

Installation view: To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow!, GES-2 House of Culture, Moscow, 2021–22. © GES-2 House of Culture.  Photo: Ivan Erofeev

Ragnar Kjartansson’s work has always attached particular significance to the unhurriedly contemplative awareness of the moment and the durations embedded therein. In the artist’s eclectic inaugural show for Moscow’s GES-2, he presents a curated group exhibition as a piece of autobiography. Kjartansson has selected a wide-ranging assembly of works from a variety of artists alongside his own as an earnest laying bare of his artistic genealogy—a sort of open-hearted “Hello, My Name Is” of a presentation to a new public.

Floating high within the former electric station’s daunting space is the show’s banner piece, from which the exhibition’s title, To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow!, is derived. The work is Kjartansson’s Three Sisters (Remake of Jay Ranelli’s Lost Photo from ca. 1990) (2021), a drab restaging of a lost snapshot picturing a trio of young women in red uniforms stationed behind a cash register, their name tags reading Irina, Olga, and Masha. Kjartansson’s father is the theater director Kjartan Ragnarsson, and the artist’s life has always been steeped in Chekhov, so with his own embarkation “To Moscow” Kjartansson returned to the refrain of the Three Sisters, and the anecdote behind the photo’s conception: the old family friend, filmmaker Jay Ranelli’s serendipitous coming across a troika of Moscow McDonald’s employees sporting the nametags of Checkov’s heroines, and his subsequent arrival at Kjartansson’s childhood home with an announcement “They finally made it to Moscow!”—for better of worse… What has always been true of Kjartansson’s modus operandi is his insistence on the supremacy of the banal over the heroic theatricality of the epic. He is a theater kid in a literal way, and someone for whom the drama and the spectacle of the stage are ineluctably prosaic and irrevocably disillusioned by the view from behind the curtain. For him, the very mundanity of that reality is all the more poetic for the virtue of being the only viable perspective, as showcased in the unavoidable staginess and low production values of World Light – The Life and Death of an Artist (2015), which attempts to recreate the epic story of a poet’s search for greatness and meaning (based on Halldór Laxness’s eponymous four-volume opus) with hammy acting and flimsy paper sets liable to fall apart at any moment. In this way, he traces, parades, and interweaves his awareness of the past through the prism of proud myopia and jubilant provincialism.

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