Ragnar Kjartansson returns to the UK with five-week non-stop 18th century organ performance

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson will return to Wales to present a brand-new performance piece, The Sky in a Room, co-commissioned by Artes Mundi and National Museum Wales. The exciting performance will see a series of revolving organists performing the 1969 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ, and will run from 3 February to 11 March at National Museum Cardiff.

In 2015, following his participation in the Artes Mundi 6 exhibition, the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson was awarded the £30,000 Derek Williams Trust purchase award, which enables National Museum of Wales to purchase artworks by Artes Mundi shortlisted artists.

The purchase was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Derek Williams Trust and the Art Fund, and will become part of Wales’s contemporary art collection at National Museum Cardiff which includes works by Rodin, Bridget Riley, Monet and Lucien Freud. This is the first time that a work by Ragnar Kjartansson has been commissioned for a UK public collection.

This exciting new commission will merge historical and contemporary art forms in a space where the visitor becomes witness to a dreamlike, surreal, and sometimes humorous environment typical of Kjartansson’s practice. Centred on the 1774 Sir Watkin Williams Wynn’s organ, a key feature of National Museum Cardiff’s 18th century British art gallery, the performance will include the removal of the full collection of paintings, exposing the ornately patterned light-blue wall fabric and isolating the organ and the performer.

The organ was made in 1774 for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn for his London house in St James’ Square. Williams Wynn is known for being the greatest patron of the arts Wales has ever produced. In the late 1760s he travelled Europe collecting Old Masters paintings and commissioning works by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding President of the Royal Academy, as well as enabling dozens of architects, painters and musicians to produce some of their best work.

The song at the centre of the durational performance is and an Italian pop song called “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room), written by one of Italy’s most celebrated songwriters Gino Paoli and was originally recorded by Italian national treasure Mina. Across a five-week period, for five hours a day, a revolving series of organists will perform the song. The song was originally described by the composer as the belief “that love, at any moment, could overcome any barrier or border”.

The song has featured in classic films throughout the 20th century including “Girl With A Suitcase” (1960) and Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990), and has been re-recorded in Italian, English and French including a version by Carla Bruni.

Photo credit: National Museum Wales

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