ReykjavÃk-based artist Ragnar Kjartansson took home a cash prize of 10,000 dollars last night and an award designed by Mark Newson. The winner of Performa’s Malcolm McLaren Award, an honor bestowed upon an artist younger than forty who For Performa 11, the recipient’s twelve-hour live loop of the final aria of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, was deemed most worthy.
A brief look at the press suggests that it wasn’t just the judges (art critic Claire Bishop, curator Jay Sanders and McLaren’s long-time partner, Young Kim) who thought the piece worthy. Chief art critic for the New York Times, Roberta Smith said she wished the piece would “never end” and Art in America’s David Ebony described the piece as “entirely engaging and revelatory as all the best art ought to be.” The meat of Smith’s review here:
Such signs of effort and nurturing emphasized the collaborative nature of the performance. You could sense the singers supporting one another, sometimes literally. The rigors of their project also affected the audience, which sometimes seemed to deliberately try to create more rest time by clapping enthusiastically. But it also started to be exhausting to watch. The beauty of the music gained a dark side, and “Bliss” became mixed with hints of torture (which is not to say I won't be going back for more). At the same time, it seems possible that as “Bliss” continues to unravel, it will expose human kindness as much as human imperfection, and that the key element extended into real time and space by Mr. Kjartansson and his collaborators will be the act of forgiveness conveyed by, but also implicit within, the countess's few, achingly affecting notes.
Hopefully, Performa will offer a restaging of the winning performance for those who haven’t seen it. After all, is the point of awards like this, to support emerging artists, not just through award money, but by exposing them to larger audiences. They have my attention.