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Bill Viola »

The Passions

Exhibition: – 4 Jan 2004

National Gallery

Trafalgar Square
WC2N 5DN London

The National Gallery

Trafalgar Square
WC2N 5DN London

+44 (0)20-77472885


Daily 10-18, Thu 10-21

Artists and writers have long been preoccupied with the challenge of depicting and arousing emotion. In 2000 Bill Viola began to explore these forces in his work, drawing on the art of the past for inspiration. A departure from his room installations with large projections and sound, the works in 'The Passions' series are intimate and silent. Displayed, for the most part, on digital flat panel screens which can be hung on walls like paintings, the works use extreme slow motion to open up emotional expression and reveal, in previously unseen ways, its power and complexity. In making the works in 'The Passions' series Viola has drawn on many strands of influence. The first room of the exhibition contains works which suggest some of his sources. Occasionally the influence has been direct, 'The Quintet of the Astonished' - the earliest work in 'The Passions' series - took as its starting point the National Gallery's painting by Bosch of 'Christ Crowned with Thorns'. More generally Viola's works have been informed by the devotional paintings of the Late Middle Ages, such as Bouts' diptych of the 'Weeping Virgin' and 'Christ Crowned with Thorns', which through their depiction of suffering were intended to move the viewer to tears. Perhaps the strongest continuous influence on Viola's work has been his deep engagement with the Eastern mystical tradition and art. The ferocious figure of 'Fudo Myo'O' displayed here is a protector of Buddhism, his sword to be used against the evils of illusion, in order to reveal the reality concealed by appearances. As well works from 'The Passions' series, the exhibition includes two earlier works: 'The Greeting' (1995), based on a painting of 'The Visitation' by the sixteenth-century artist Pontormo, anticipated 'The Passions' in its use of actors and slow motion to open out a forty second encounter to over 10 minutes. 'The Crossing' (1996) is a large-scale video and sound installation which uses the elemental symbols of water and fire as annihilating, transforming forces, with parallels to the abandonment and transformation of self we experience when consumed by the deepest emotions. The exhibition has been organised by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles in collaboration with the National Gallery. For any further information about the exhibition please ask at the Information Desks or call 020 7747 2885.