The Russian oligarch Leonid Mikhelson, a close friend of Vladimir Putin, invited Kjartansson to curate a retrospective exhibition of his artwork at the GES-2 cultural center in 2021. Before the exhibition’s public opening, Vladimir Putin had a private tour of the show called “To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow!”
But things took a drastic turn on February 24, 2022, when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. In response to this grave situation, Kjartansson decided to close the exhibition immediately. Consequently, the public could no longer see the artworks. This was the first time these works had been displayed since their initial showing in Moscow.
One of the pieces in the collection, titled “Three Sisters,” is a reimagining of Jay Ranelli’s Lost Photo from around 1990. This work pays tribute to the late American theater director Jay Ranelli, who claimed to have photographed the first McDonald’s in Russia, where he was served by three women named Irina, Masha, and Olga – coincidentally sharing names with the principal characters in Anton Chekhov’s famous play, “Three Sisters.” This naming coincidence adds a layer of literary intrigue to the photo, juxtaposing the modern setting of a fast-food restaurant with the timeless themes explored in Chekhov’s classic play.
Börkur Arnarson, the director of the Reykjavík-based i8 Gallery, noted, “It’s a challenging piece, but we believed it was the right time to showcase it.” He explained, “When Russia invaded Ukraine and Ragnar withdrew from the exhibition, the image took on an added dimension. While it doesn’t directly relate to the war, it now reflects the political and social complexities stemming from the invasion. We felt it was important to exhibit the work again.”
Kjartansson visited Russia during his childhood in the post-communist era, and according to Arnarson, the photograph symbolizes hope for the people of the Soviet Union as they embraced this symbol of capitalism.