Press Releases



The Sky in a Room by Ragnar Kjartansson

3rd February – 11th March


National Museum Cardiff

With support from the Derek Williams Trust and Art Fund

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson presents a brand-new performance piece, The Sky in a Room, at National Museum Cardiff from 3 February to 11 March. Co-commissioned by Artes Mundi and National Museum Wales, the performance sees a series of organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ.


In 2015, following his participation in the Artes Mundi 6 exhibition, the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson was awarded the Derek Williams Trust Artes Mundi Prize, 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 and the first acquisition of a performance by National Museum Wales.


This 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 turquoise 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 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. The lyrics recall the power of love to disappear walls into forests and ceilings into sky. Kjartansson’s work similarly transforms the Museum, dissolving space and time through the hypnotic repetition of the song. Across a five-week period, for six hours a day, a series of organists will perform the song, bridging the gap between the 18th century organ, Paolo Gino’s 1959 hit and Ragnar Kjartansson’s contemporary performance.


Ragnar Kjartansson said: “The Sky in a Room” is to be set in a blue room exhibiting 18th century British paintings. I want to do a piece about space, the transformation of space in that lovely room. This solitary space, usually filled with glorious artwork, suddenly becomes empty. Then "Il Cielo in una Stanza" is to be played constantly on the ancient organ. It is a song all Italians know, it is almost the Italian national anthem of love. An ode to the transformation of space in that grand blue organ room”.


Known for videos and performances in which music and repetition play an important role, attaining a quasi-hypnotic quality, Kjartansson will draw on these practices to enact “The Sky in a Room”.


Nicholas Thornton, Head of Contemporary Art, National Museum Wales, said. “The Sky in a Room will be the first performance work to enter the Museum’s permanent collection and adds to our growing collection of contemporary art at National Museum Cardiff. We are very excited to own this fantastic new work by Ragnar Kjartansson, one of the world’s finest performance artists”.


Artes Mundi Director and Curator, Karen MacKinnon said: “We are really excited about extending Artes Mundi’s legacy and fuelling a “portal to international art” here in Wales. Working with the National Museum Wales to bring back an Artes Mundi artist and developing

a site-specific commission that resonates with this community, this place, this building and being able to purchase that work is amazing”.


The Sky in a Room by Ragnar Kjartansson

February 3rd – March 11th

National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP





For further information please contact Lleucu Cooke, Communications Manager, National Museum Cardiff on 029 2057 3175 or


Museum Opening Times: Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30am to 16:30pm (continuous performance)


Funders: Derek Williams Trust, ArtFund


Curators: Melissa Hinkin, Exhibitions Officer Artes Mundi; Nicholas Thornton, Head of Fine and Contemporary Art, National Museum Wales.





About Ragnar Kjartansson:

Kjartansson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 1976, where he continues to live and work. The entire arc of art – film, music, theatre, visual culture and literature finds its way into his video installations, durational performances, drawings and paintings. Performing, acting and staging become key tools in the artist’s attempt to convey sincere emotion and offering a genuine experience to the audience. Repetition is also key to his practice; collaborative performances can last hours, days, weeks or months. Kjartansson’s work The Visitors was shown in Artes Mundi 6, he was also the recipient of the 2015 Derek Williams Trust Purchase Award.



According to Massimiliano Gioni, one of the world’s leading curators and writer for the Artes Mundi 6 catalogue:All together, the music, the choreographies and the sets [of Ragnar’s work] build up to compose symphonic ensembles that have the theatrical grandiosity of a total work of art and the delusional grandeur of a students’ production, like Wagner performed in a small theater in the province – the twilight of the gods staged at Sunday school”


About Artes Mundi:

Artes Mundi brings exceptional and challenging international artists to Wales, generating unique opportunities to engage creatively with the urgent issues of our time. Artes Mundi 8 takes place at National Museum Cardiff, 27 October 2018 – 24 February 2019.


The winner of the prestigious 40,000 GBP Artes Mundi prize will be announced in January 2019 following a four-month exhibition of works by the shortlisted artists. The shortlist was selected from over 450 nominations spanning 86 countries and comprises five of the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists, whose works explore what it means to be human. They are: Anna Boghiguian, Bouchra Khalili, Otobong Nkanga, Trevor Paglen and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.  


About National Museum Cardiff:

Situated in the heart of Cardiff’s elegant civic center, National Museum Cardiff houses Wales’s national art collection. See five hundred years of magnificent paintings, drawings, sculpture, silver and ceramics from Wales and across the world, including one of Europe’s best collections of Impressionist art with works by Monet, Cézanne, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Rodin.


About Art Fund:

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators.