Published  23/06/2000

Bill Viola, master of video

Bill Viola, Master of Video

Encounters: NEW art from OLD
National Gallery of Art, London
2000-06-14 until 2000-09-17

In 1994 the then-Tate Gallery, acquired the Nantes Triptych, by Bill Viola, for £120,000; what at the time seemed a generous figure now looks remarkably well invested - as the work at Tate Modern today demonstrates. Two years after that a more dramatic figure still was achieved, with the help of the National Heritage Lottery Fund, to create Viola's work The Messenger, as shown in Durham Cathedral, and subsequently reaching a larger audience through the BBC Programme 'Seeing Salvation: Images of Christ in Art'.

Now, 'Quintet of the Astonished' is included in the National Gallery's exhibition 'Encounters', which was sponsored by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter; 24 artists were invited to 'respond' to paintings in the permanent collection. Viola has chosen 'Christ Crucified', by Hieronymus Bosch.

Viola, who admits to a long-standing interest in sacred art, now stands firmly in that long Judaeo-Christian tradition within Europe, of a humanistic representation of 'divine reality', as contemplated by Renaissance artists. Viola uses his lens like a brush: "if you think about it, the optical system of the camera is really the technological embodiment of the vanishing-point perspective system used in painting by the artists of the Renaissance", Viola recently told Colin Gleadall of the Daily Telegraph.

At 49, Viola has already produced an oeuvre that includes over 100 completed video works. As the acknowledged master of the medium in America, in 1995 he represented his country in the Venice Biennale. But he was already experienced fully in London two years earlier, when the "Nantes Triptych" showed at the Whitechapel Gallery. A sense of spiritual contemplation is present in Viola's work today: this sensibility grew all through his travels from the Pacific Islands to the Himalayas.

What is interesting here, now, is that Bill Viola is a somewhat rare example of an artist bridging the Thames from the dramas of Tate Modern to the longer historical perspectives of the National Gallery today. "Encounters: New Art for Old" is at the National Gallery, London, June 14 - September 17.



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