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Hirshhorn acquires full series of Kjartansson’s “Me and My Mother”

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has announced the acquisition of all four current installments of Ragnar Kjartansson’s (b. 1976) ongoing video series “Me and My Mother,” along with the promise of all future iterations, making it the only institution to own this seminal piece in its entirety. The Hirshhorn first staged the work in 2016 when it co-organized Kjartansson’s critically acclaimed first major mid-career survey exhibition with the Barbican in London.

“Me and My Mother” began in 2000 while Kjartansson was still a student, and it is based upon a simple premise—every five years, Kjartansson invites his mother, the well-known Icelandic actress Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir, to spit on him. Mother and son stand side-by-side in her living room facing a fixed-point camera. Periodically and repeatedly, Kjartansson’s mother turns and spits into his face with dramatic gusto. Initially shocking in its spectacular disregard of convention, the repetitive act quickly becomes ridiculous and grotesque. Situated at the juncture between reality and make-believe, “Me and My Mother” is a foundational work that demonstrates that the core elements of Kjartansson’s oeuvre today. The series will continue indefinitely, with the next installment planned for 2020.

This key acquisition follows the recent appointment of Mark Beasley as curator of media and performance art, and it continues the museum’s long-standing commitment to experimental and new media works.

Kjartansson’s videos join a range of new acquisitions that represent some of the most significant developments in international contemporary art, including selections by Hurvin AndersonAaron Garber-MaikovskaGeneral IdeaZhang Huan, Annette LemieuxShirin NeshatDeb Sokolow and Mika Tajima. Under director Melissa Chiu, the Hirshhorn has added nearly 100 new works—double the rate of prior years—to its collection, signaling a reenergized focus on acquisitions.

Together, many of these artworks offer significant growth to the museum’s key holdings of emerging artists, especially those taking unexpected approaches to traditional media. Turner Prize 2017 nominee Anderson’s (b. 1965) paintings “M.J.” (2016) and “Jet” (2016) enhance the museum’s already robust painting collection and resonate strongly alongside work by painters engaged in explorations of black identity in the global diaspora.