Ragnar Kjartansson and friends – The Palace of the Summerland
April 3–June 8, 2014 | TBA21–Augarten, Vienna
April 3 – June 8, 2014

Ragnar Kjartansson and friends – The Palace of the Summerland, 2014
Filmstills: courtesy of the artist

Dubbed by Vogue as “Ragnar of Reykjavik,“ and labeled as “fun-loving, cigar-smoking, Cadillac-driving, highly entertaining,” Ragnar Kjartansson crosses boundaries between different media with as much ease and grace as he switches between the roles and personas he creates and personifies. In collaboration with a group of approx. 20 talented artists, musicians, and friends, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary is embarking on a bold new commission, one that defies traditional categorization in collaboration. Broadening the scope of its interdisciplinary and multimedia investigations, TBA21 presents a two-part project titled The Palace of the Summerland in its spectacular venue at the Augarten in Vienna.

To be a poet is to be a visitor on a distant shore until one dies.“ Halldór Laxness

A megalomaniac journey into the soul of a generation 

From April 3 to April 27, Ragnar Kjartansson and his troupe of musicians, actors, artistic directors, costume designers, camera operators, and technical crew live and perform continuously in the Augarten exhibition space, transforming it into an active studio, an art factory, and a set for a filmic and theatrical adaptation of the epic novel World Light (Heimsljós), by the Icelandic author and Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness. The Palace of the Summerland is a piece of performance art, flirting with literature, music, and sculpture—a manic journey into the souls of generations of Icelandic artists, presented under the guise of making a film. Kjartansson describes the project as a “megalomaniac quest,” in this case to capture beauty, art, emotion, and the essence of life. Aiming at the impossible, it is a task that has to be tried, completed, lived.

An epic on a softporn budget 

Laxness wrote World Light between 1937 and 1940, around the outbreak of World War II. The Palace of the Summerland, named after the second part of the novel, revolves around the tragic and fateful life of its protagonist, the folk poet Ólafur Kárason, whose constant search for sheer beauty and artistic gratification leads to his final tragic apotheosis.

Kjartansson states: “This story has molded my approach to art more than anything else… It colored my whole worldview… World Light is an epic about the artist. An ironic tale of beauty and artistic integrity written in the crucible of modernism, it is equally an ode to beauty and a deconstruction of it. It speaks to an important 21st-century core: the politics of beauty. The exhibition will be the process of filming scenes from this novel, which depict the utopic creative moment, the search for perfection, and the final romanticized sacrifice for art. The exhibition space will become a Fellini-style studio, a mayhem factory for building, acting, and filming a story on beauty. We are not really making cinema; we are acting out an attempt to make cinema… It is like Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions.”

The team that the artist has assembled for this project is a robust group of some of Reykjavík’s most prominent artists, comedians, writers, and musicians. It is a gang of the friends who have inspired him in his works. They leave behind their regular lives and join Kjartansson on a Fitzcarraldo-like journey. By visiting TBA21–Augarten at different times, the public can experience diverse situations: the team caught in the middle of a rehearsal; Kjartansson with his father introducing the filming of a certain scene; musicians rehearsing a score composed by Kjartan Sveinsson, the composer and former member of Sigur Rós; the production of sets, costumes, and props: literally the entire production process in front of the cameras and behind the scenes. “It will be a factory where we are building, acting, and filming an impossibly big story on beauty. The drama is on-site. We are making an epic on a softporn budget, surrounded by the audience. It is a hopeless task. A true disaster,” says Kjartansson. 

Following the four-week performance, the film/theater sets become part of a large-scale environmental installation on view at TBA21–Augarten from April 30 to June 8, 2014.
April 3–June 8, 2014
Curated by
Daniela Zyman

Commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna and co-produced with Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City
Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík
TBA21–Augarten, Scherzergasse 1A, 1020 Vienna, Austria
Free admission
Team, Crew, Actors
The Palace of the Summerland

Ragnar Kjartansson
Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir
Davíð Þór Jónsson
Kjartan Sveinsson
María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir
Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir
Anna Hrund Másdóttir
Lilja Gunnarsdóttir
Tómas Örn Tómasson
Christopher W. McDonald
Kjartan Ragnarsson
Sigríður Margrét Guðmundsdóttir
Halldór Halldórsson
Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson
Thelma Marín Jónsdóttir
Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir
Helga Stefánsdóttir
Margrét Bjarnadóttir
Sólveig Kartín Ragnarsdóttir
Guðný Halldórsdóttir
Sveinn Kjartansson
Daníel Karl Björnsson
Project partners
all i need
das weisse haus
Embassy of Iceland
Groszer Wein
ImPulsTanz - Vienna International Dance Festival
Steinway in Austria
University of Applied Arts Vienna, Institute of Fine Arts and Media Art, Stage and Film Design Department
Vöslauer Natural Mineral Water
Wiener Räume
Supported by
Wiener Städtische Versicherungsverein