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Ragnar Kjartansson in video installation The Visitors
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Ragnar Kjartansson in video installation The Visitors. Photograph: Elisabet Davidsdottir

Set in the home of eccentric Americans, The Visitors is 64 hard-partying minutes of songs, cigars and sorrow. As it’s named the best artwork of the century, the artist relives its creation

Rokeby is a crumbling 43-room mansion in upstate New York, where the descendants of the grand American families the Astors and the Livingstons – as well as their bohemian friends – participate in everything from puppetry to organic farming. On one gorgeous summer evening, they gathered on the terrace while nine Icelandic musicians, including members of Múm and Sigur Ros, each took over one of the house’s rooms, from the ballroom to the bathroom. Together, they played a song that went “Once again, I fall into my feminine ways” – over and over.

The result was The Visitors by artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Named after Abba’s final album and presented as a nine-screen video installation in galleries from London’s Barbican to the Broad in LA, The Visitors mesmerised viewers, most of whom stayed for its entire 64 minutes, moved to tears of euphoria and sorrow. As the New York Times put it, the effect is “alternately tragic and joyful, meditative and clamorous, and that swells in feeling from melancholic fugue to redemptive gospel choir”. A memorial to the end of Kjartansson’s marriage, a paean to the twilight of youth, a celebration of friendship, music and America itself, The Visitors is sumptuous and profound.

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