From July 2 to 5, Ragnar Kjartansson: Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It is the third project within Re/Projections: Video, Film, and Performance for the Rotunda, a series of four distinct presentations that reimagine the Guggenheim’s rotunda as a space for navigating tensions between collective and individual experience.
Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy is organized by Nat Trotman, Curator, Performance and Media, with Terra Warren, Curatorial Assistant. Originally commissioned by C Project and curated by Tom Eccles, the piece premiered at the Women’s Building, San Francisco, in 2018.
In his videos, performances, and installations, Ragnar Kjartansson stages durational actions based in the emotional and historical power of music and popular culture. Growing up in a theatrical family, Kjartansson witnessed the hard work of running lines, rehearsing, and putting on the same productions night after night. This generative monotony inspired him to structure his artworks around rhythm, repetition, and endurance. Each of his projects begins with a simple refrain—usually a song—that is then performed, over and over again, for an extended period. As these looping recitations unfurl, the absurdity of Kjartansson’s conceit gives way to poignant meditations on strength, resiliency, and the range of expression possible within limited scripts.
In Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy, women and nonbinary singer-guitarists stationed throughout the Guggenheim play cherished songs of love and romance by some of the world’s great songwriters, including Bruce Springsteen, Cat Stevens, and Lil Wayne. However, visitors soon discover that these tracks harbor a dark side: mostly written by men about women, they gently—and not so gently—reveal how popular culture is shaped by chauvinism, objectification, and gender violence.
Performing these songs on repeat for hours at a time, the musicians must personally bear the emotional and physical burden of the lyrics’ content. Yet they also join in a collective ritual that imagines new possibilities for endurance, reclamation, and even joy. At once a celebration of pop music and a charged environment of critique, Romantic Songs of the Patriarchycreates a space where contradictions—between individual and group, oppression and liberation, rhythm and chaos—exist together within a community of collaboration and mutual support.
Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy will feature approximately two dozen musicians, including many from the original San Francisco presentation, as well as many performers from the local New York community, who were cast through an open call. The musical directors are Kjartan Sveinsson and Kendra McKinley, who have created new arrangements of the songs to adapt them to the choral nature of the piece.
Ragnar Kjartansson: Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy is part of Re/Projections: Video, Film, and Performance for the Rotunda, a 2021 series comprising In Between Days: Video from the Guggenheim Collections(March 19 to April 19), organized by Nat Trotman; Christian Nyampeta: Sometimes It Was Beautiful (April 30 to June 21), organized by Xiayou Weng, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Associate Curator; and Wu Tsang: Anthem (working title, July 23 to September 6), organized by X Zhu-Nowell, Assistant Curator.
Each of these four varied presentations draws on the building’s unique capacity for distanced gathering to create frameworks for dialogue and mutual care. The experimental approach behind Re/Projections is designed to privilege multiple voices while remaining nimble in a moment of economic and public health crises. With its focus on video, film, and performance, the series also celebrates acts of embodiment, storytelling, and interpersonal connection. As audiences convene in the Guggenheim’s landmark space, they will encounter new visions for navigating tensions between collective and individual experience, asking how we might live together better in an increasingly polarized world.