A musical marathon is happening at the New Museum in Manhattan. Ten male guitarists are playing and singing continuously all day Wednesday through Sunday until June 29 as part of a new piece created by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson and composed by fellow Icelander Kjartan Sveinsson, formerly of Sigur Rós. All this stoked by unlimited beer (NYC’s anti-smoking ordinance thwarted unlimited cigarettes), comfy seating (loveseats, mattresses, couches, rolling chairs) and loungewear (Kjartansson encouraged homey attire: pajamas, underwear). The polyphonic performance anchors Kjartansson’s first New York museum exhibition, “Me, My Mother, My Father, and I.”
The makeup of the ad hoc orchestra, including three alternates, testifies to the tapestry of talent in NYC: singer-songwriters, subway buskers, Berklee College of Music grads, a studying music critic. Underpinning this rhythmic tide is a looping scene from one of the first feature films made in Iceland (1977), in which a sexy housewife (whose 2014 self would wear this dress) imagines seducing a plumber by the dishwasher. The actors are the artist’s parents – according to family legend, he was conceived the night after filming – and the lyrics are lines plucked from the film’s dialogue. “All of these people singing about the birth of an artist!” Kjartansson proclaimed in The New Yorker. “It’s kind of disgusting and I’m excited about that.” Or, as his mentor, conceptual artist Magnus Sigurdarson once said, “It’s more than magnificent, it’s mediocre.”
The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl described the experience as telescopic, moving as he did from observation of individual idiosyncrasies into a wide-angle pathos, “a comprehensive resonance, with a rising and falling rhythm like that of heavy surf or the slow beating of a giant’s heart. There’s a sense of being party to something that is larger than yourself and the players and the artist and the museum.” One more stop on my tri-state summer to-do list.