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Hirshhorn Acquires Full Series of Ragnar Kjartansson’s Acclaimed “Me and My Mother”

Innovative Videos Join 17 New Additions to the Collection, Including Works by Hurvin Anderson, General Idea and Shirin Neshat


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 Guđrún 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.

Sokolow’s (b. 1974) text-based drawings and collages make use of in-depth research and humorous conjecture to tell stories that are part fact, part fiction. Tajima (b. 1975) creates woven canvases from digital data she collects, exemplified by “Negative Entropy (Toyota Airjet, Pink, hex)” and “Negative Entropy (Philadelphia Technology Park Router Room, hex).” “Untitled” (2016) by Garber-Maikovska (b. 1978) is situated at the intersection of painting and performance, enhancing the museum’s growing emphasis on media and performance.

A further testament to the museum’s commitment to pioneering female artists, Neshat’s (b. 1957) “Rapture” will join a recent acquisition of “Fervor,” part of the now historic trilogy (“Turbulent, Rapture, Fervor”). Both “Nomad” (1988) and “Courting Death” (1985/2014) by Lemieux (b. 1957) are key to understanding the artistic practices of the 1980s, and will debut as part of the upcoming exhibition “What Absence Is Made Of,” opening Oct. 19.

One of the most influential contemporary artists working in China, Zhang (b. 1965) is best known for reviving performance art after the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. His “Untitled (Wood Cut on Old Door) (Mao with Leaders)” (2006) will join art by Cai Guo-Qiang, Ai Weiwei, Huang Yong Ping and Lin Tianmiao to build a narrative of contemporary Chinese art in the museum’s collection. Lastly, General Idea, a collaboration formed in Toronto in 1969, will be represented by the major post-minimal conceptual sculpture “V.B. Gown #6 (a.k.a. Massing Studies for the Pavilion #6)” (1975), along with an accompanying work on paper, “Exit the Verb” (1975).

About the Hirshhorn

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. With nearly 12,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media installations, works on paper and new media works, its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all, 364 days a year. For more information, visit

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