Ragnar Kjartansson & Barbara Kruger, The Hirschhorn, Washington DC

28 November 2016

Arriving at the eye-catching and doughnut-shaped Hirschhorn Museum one can hardly miss its wonderful recent sculptural acquisition. Still Life with Spirit & Xitle from irreverent artist Jimmie Durham sits right outside the main entrance wittily capturing the clash of ancient and modern spirits – a lump of Mexican volcanic rock painted with a smiley face thoroughly crushing a Dodge Spirit car. It thoroughly trumps (no pun intended) Roy Lichenstein’s Brushstroke and Mark di Savero’s Tumbleweed. 

Los Angeles Museum on Fire Ed Ruscha Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

The irreverence continues inside with a Ragnar Kjartansson retrospective, this exhibition fresh from its positive reception at the Barbican in London.  Kjartansson’s work is at the cutting edge of performance art. Spellbinding, poignant, and frequently humorous he brings together live endurance theater, large-scale projection, popular music, photography, painting, and drawing.

Knowing that he was formerly a member of Icelandic band Sigur Ros it is therefore unsurprising to discover that he features plenty of music to his work: a live sequin clad woman surrounded by a fine curtain of gilt thread strums E minor continuously on an electric guitar; on film Kjartansson continuously croons ‘Love conquers happiness’; in a rambling mansion, represented on a series of screens, a group of musicians come together to perform a repetitive melody. There are paintings too but it is these live performances and videos that he is at his captivating best.

Ragnar ktarjansson Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

Its final room has the artists mother, in clips filmed over many years, hilariously spitting in to the face of the artist. The whole show is poignant, captivating, witty, enchanting and quite frankly unmissable.

Ragnar ktarjansson Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

At the same time, down in the lower level Barbara Kruger has installed Belief & Doubt. Kruger comments “Belief is tricky because left to its own devices it can court a kind of surety, an unquestioning allegiance that fears doubt and destroys difference”

Barbara-kruger Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

Her trademark maxims clad the whole of this level of the museum in a palette of red, white and black and shout at us like the media advertising it draws from. Belief + doubt = sanity. Money makes money. You want it, you buy it, you forget it. Rich mans jokes are always funny. Her style is now perhaps somewhat over-familiar having been appropriated back by the advertising industry in a grotesque spiral, nevertheless her sharp observation still manages to keep bold interventions like this interesting enough.

Joan Miro Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

The gallery’s permanent collection is represented on the top level in an exhibition entitled simply ‘Masterworks from the Hirschhorn Collection‘. It is stunning. Its eclectic mix reflects the taste of Joseph Hirschhorn himself, an avid collector who befriended the likes of Arshile Gorky, Edward Hopper and Willem de Kooning amongst many more.

 Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

On display are fine pieces from Joan Miro, Michelangelo Pistioletto (Venus of the Rags above) , Francis Bacon, Richard Diebenkorn, Wilfredo Lam and Edward Hopper. Ed Ruscha’s wonderful The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire catches the eye, whilst Peter Doig’s Spearfishing is outclassed and out of place.

Alexander Calder Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

Hirshhorn may be most well-known as a collector of nineteenth and twentieth-century sculpture. He acquired major works by pioneers such as Auguste Rodin and Alexander Calder – both on display. Set against each other in particularly impressive room are a clutch of Alberto Giacometti pieces that echo the expressive Willem de Kooning canvases that adorn the walls.

Ron Mueck Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

Ron Mueck’s ‘Big Man’  in the stairwell is deeply unsettling and a suitable coda to a series of exhibitions that will have made you think somewhat more than most.

Jimmie Durham Hirschhorn Museum Washington DC

For more information visit The Hirschhorn Collection

Masterworks from the Hirschhorn Collection continues until 6 August 2017

Ragnar Kjartansson continues until 8 January 2017

In Washington DC CELLOPHANELAND* stayed at the Dupont Circle Hotel (review here)