Ragnar Kjartansson. Photo: Elisabet Davids.

Ragnar Kjartansson Wins 2019 Ars Fennica Prize

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson was named the winner of this year’s Ars Fennica Prize. Presented by the Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation, which was established in 1990 to promote visual art and help Finnish artists achieve international recognition, the annual $44,000 prize is Finland’s biggest visual arts award. Kjartansson is the twenty-fourth recipient of the award.

Kjartansson received the prize for his presentation of The Boat, one of nine videos from the “Scenes from Western Culture” series, 2015—which conveys an absurd and sometimes ominous vision of Western life. The two-and-a-half-hour video, which shows a speedboat carrying two lovers arriving at a dock on a continuous loop, but with slight variations, is on view in the “Ars Fennica 2019” exhibition at Amos Rex in Helsinki alongside works by shortlisted artists Petri Ala-Maunus, Miriam Bäckström, Egill Sæbjörnsson, and Aurora Reinhard.

The finalists were chosen by a panel comprising Leena Niemistö, Kiasma Leevi Haapala, Amos Rex Kai Kartio, and the artist Jussi Kivi. Roland Wetzel, the director of the Museum Tinguely in Basel, selected the prize winner. Commenting on the artists nominated, Wetzel said: “All of them would have deserved to be selected from the shortlist. Everyone’s specific practice opens up a complex, thoughtful examination of aspects of the world we are living in.”

Wetzel also praised Kjartansson’s ability to operate like a minimalistic trickster, his ambiguous inclination toward nostalgia and romanticism, and his skill at creating works that play with the fascinating and irresolvable tension between the sublime and the mundane.