Viola Michelangelo

The exhibition at the Royal Academy which pairs the work of Bill Viola, the best known contemporary video artist, with the drawings of Michelangelo has had a pretty good drubbing in the national press, as if it is illegitimate to think that there might be some connection in the approach of two artists across time and from completely different visual cultures and that it is necessarily hubristic to compare them. It is true that in the second of the galleries the Michelangelo tondo together with some of his great presentation drawings are confronted on the wall opposite by big screen images of birth, childhood and death in Viola’s Nantes Triptych (1992). This is a (deliberately) radical and unexpected way of looking at – and thinking about – the work of Michelangelo. But the great majority of the exhibition consists of large-scale and immersive work by Bill Viola.

I still greatly admire the first work in the exhibition The Messenger, which I first encountered in the nave of Durham Cathedral at dusk in late August 1996. I had never seen Five Angels for the Millennium (2001), an incredibly impressive work, particularly as seen in Gallery III. And the final work in the exhibition is Fire Woman (2005), a film of resurrection, fire and brimstone. Yes, maybe it has a touch of Hollywood in it. But I don’t object to technical magnificence. And nor did Michelangelo.

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5 thoughts on “Viola Michelangelo

  1. Kate Woodhead says:

    I do agree with your views, though have not seen the art work you mention, nor have I read the drumming in the press, but I’m not worried about that.

  2. Ben P says:

    In terms of an immersive exhibition I thought it was pretty spectacular! Feels like some critics couldn’t get past their previous distaste for Viola – irrespective of Michelangelo alongside. I do hope people will see it, be challenged by it, and make up their own minds

  3. joan says:

    Haven’t seen the exhibition yet (though intend to). For anyone interested, while it is on, St Paul’s Cathedral is running special art tours on Wednesday afternoons (and the occasional Saturday) in order for visitors to be able to experience their Bill Viola pieces. You have to pre-book and the price is the cost of admission to the Cathedral. Details on the cathedral website.

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