press release

RAGNAR KJARTANSSON - The Sky in a Room

September 22 – October 25, 2020
Church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto
Largo Fra’ Paolo Bellintani 1, Milan

In fall 2020, the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi will present The Sky in a Room by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson (Reykjavík, 1976). The project, staged for the church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto in Milan, was conceived in the wake of the difficult lockdown affecting the public and private lives of millions of Italians—especially the citizens of Lombardy. With a strong symbolic value and taking place in the eighteenth year of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s nomadic activities, the project, initiated by the President Beatrice Trussardi and the Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni, opens up a dialogue with both the distant and recent past of the city of Milan.

From September 22 to October 25, 2020, accompanied by the church organ of San Carlo al Lazzaretto (also known as San Carlino), professional singers will take turns to perform an ethereal arrangement of Il cielo in una stanza, the famous song by Gino Paoli, originally released in 1960. The piece will be repeated, uninterruptedly, for six hours a day, every day, like a never-ending lullaby.

“Il cielo in una stanza is the only song I know that deals with the fundamental nature of visual art, which is its ability to transform space,” the artist explains. “So, in a way, it is purely conceptual. But I also love how it describes the power of the imagination, put on fire by love, to transform the world around us. It is a poem about how love and music can make a small confined space explode, letting in the sky and the trees... Love can read the writing in the remotest star, as Oscar Wilde said.”

Kjartansson’s works—which alternate between video, performance, music, and painting—are characterized by a profound sense of melancholy. Often inspired by the twentieth-century traditions of Nordic theater and literature, they include references that may be traced back to the work of Tove Janson, Halldór Laxness, Edvard Munch, and August Strindberg, among others.

Having grown up in an erudite artistic and musical context—his parents were successful theater actors; his godmother, a professional folk singer—while still an adolescent, Kjartansson undertook a career as a musician with various groups such as Kanada, Kósý, and Trabant, playing both in Iceland and internationally. Since 2007, he has been entirely dedicated to the visual arts, but his relationship with music and theater—as expressive tools and sentimental universes—remains central to many of his works. In particular, the repetition of sounds and gestures is a fundamental element in his compositions and choreographies, which have often been described as forms of meditation and reflection in which ritornellos, musical phrases, and arias are transformed into touching litanies and hypnotic mantras.

After months spent sealed off in our homes, either alongside our nearest and dearest or far from families and loved ones—perhaps realizing our own loneliness, stuck with those that mistreat us, or grieving those lost to the pandemic—Kjartansson’s performance may be read as a poetic, contemporary memorial. The work is an unusual monument and a civil oratorio in memory of the painful months spent imagining the sky in a room and dreaming of new ways to be together and fight solitude and isolation.

In this presentation, The Sky in a Room (a performance initially commissioned by Artes Mundi and the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, with the support of the Derek Williams Trust and ArtFund) will be staged in the church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto—the history of which is closely connected with previous epidemics, from the plague of 1576 to that of 1630. The church was made famous in the novel The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, who cites the Lazzaretto (the hospital and banishment area for plague victims) on various occasions and sets one of the most famous chapters of the story there.

Initially conceived as a field altar in the heart of the Lazzaretto, built by the architect Lazzaro Palazzi, the church was designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi on the orders of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo in 1576. Originally open on all sides so as to allow the sick to attend services while remaining outside, the church was then transformed by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini around the turn of the nineteenth century. After surviving the transformations carried out over almost five centuries, San Carlino is a place that narrates the history of Milan through its deep layers of memories.

In 2017, the church underwent complete restoration financed by the Fondazione Rocca in memory of Roberto Rocca.

The Sky in a Room by Ragnar Kjartansson is part of a series of project carried out since 2013 by the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi: temporary shows, incursions, performances, and pop-up interventions that have brought international artists to Milan such as Ibrahim Mahama, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Lucas, Gelitin, Darren Bader, and Stan VanDerBeek.

The Fondazione Nicola Trussardi is a private, non-profit institution, a nomadic museum designed for both the production and promotion of contemporary art in multiple contexts and through a wide range of channels. It was founded in Milan in 1996. Its activities are made possible thanks to the generosity of the founding members and that of a group of supporters who sponsor its projects.

Thus, with The Sky in a Room, the path undertaken by the Foundation in 2003 continues to bring contemporary art into the heart of the city of Milan, rediscovering and reappraising forgotten or unusual venues. Other major solo shows include those by Allora & Calzadilla, Paweł Althamer, Maurizio Cattelan, Tacita Dean, Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, Urs Fischer, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Paul McCarthy, Paola Pivi, Pipilotti Rist, Anri Sala, and Tino Sehgal, as well as two major thematic exhibitions: La Grande Madre (2015) and La Terra Inquieta (2017).

Ragnar Kjartansson

Born in Reykjavík in 1976, Ragnar Kjartansson is one of the best-known contemporary artists of his generation. Over the last ten years, Kjartansson’s work has been celebrated by many of the most important international museums.

In 2019, he became one of the youngest artists ever to hold a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He has displayed his work twice at the Venice Biennale, where he also represented Iceland in its official participation in 2009. His work has also been featured at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan, at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin and the EX3 in Florence, as well as at the New Museum in New York, the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Barbican in London, and the Carnegie in Pittsburgh.

Kjartansson has won major awards, among which the Ars Fennica Award in 2019 and the Performa Malcolm McLaren Award in 2011.