Time and duration are at the heart of many of Ragnar Kjartansson’s performance works. In 2011 he staged a 12-hour, looped rendition of a single Mozart aria; he pushed the pop-song format to absurd lengths with his 2012 installation The Visitors, stretching one tune to 64 minutes. Time is of the essence in this case, because “A Lot of Sorrow,” his show at Luhring Augustine, finishes its three-month run on Dec. 21. The six-hour-long video shows the rock band The National in performance at the VW Dome in the courtyard of MoMA PS1; the band, dressed in black suits, performs a six-hour rendition of their song Sorrow, normally just three minutes. “I don’t want to get over you,” sings the jilted lover in the song. In his 2007 film installation God, the artist himself sings that “sorrow conquers happiness.” But somehow the band’s protracted expression of sadness brings true joy.
Having called irony “the most human way to express yourself,” the 37-year-old musician and prankish durational performance artist, who represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale in 2009 with a 6-month on-site painting marathon, now presents a nostalgic, visually sumptuous 9-channel video installation on the theme of regret. Viewers wander among large screens showing hip, semi-catatonic young musicians, each isolated in a different part of a decaying 200-year-old mansion in upstate New York, playing instruments and repeatedly singing a lost-love lament. The single most memorable segment of The Visitors, titled after the Swedish group ABBA’s 1981 breakup album, features Kjartansson himself mournfully strumming a guitar and crooning in a soapy bathtub.