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“It is beauty expressing its sorrow.”

The Woman in E is a performing art exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Designed by artist Ragnar Kjartansson, the Woman in E is unlike the traditional art one would find in many of the Smithsonian museums.

In the display, a woman stands or sits on a revolving platform, wearing a gold sequin gown and playing one chord, E-minor, on an electric guitar.

Rare talked exclusively with museum curator Stéphane Aquin about the meaning behind the piece.

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“It’s an idealized, kitschified version of beauty. A woman in gold sequin dress on a rotating platform,” he said. “But it’s also a very simplified and a very dignified expression of sorrow. One single chord, repeated over and over again.”

Why E-minor? Kjartansson also had a reason for choosing that chord over any other.

“[It’s] the saddest of all chords,” Aquin said. “And the two merge and clash and come together in a very strange and compelling way. You cannot not engage with the music.”

“People tend to come in and stare, be moved, not really know how exactly to react but still be very moved by the beauty of it all. The sorrow of it all,” Aquin told us. “It’s a very compelling piece. It’s really something to experience. And the sound, of course, is very strong, and it just spreads throughout the whole museum.”

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