With twenty masterly works – hours of video on over thirty screens – Bill Viola in the Grand Palais is one of the largest retrospectives of the work of this artist.
Bill Viola’s oeuvre has been shown and celebrated in the world’s greatest museums: a first retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1997, the MOMA in New York, the National Gallery in London, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Berlin, New York)... All that was missing was a retrospective in France, where, although little of his work is on display in the national museums, Bill Viola was acknowledged early on as a major artist (shows in the Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris in 1983, the Fondation Cartier in 1990, the Musée de Nantes in 1992, and the Festival d'automne in 1996).
Bill Viola’s skillful use of video technology conjures up a vast digital world of images, at times inspired by the great works of art history.
In this exhibition we see references to such masters as Goya (The Sleep of Reason, 1988) and Hieronymus Bosch (The Quintet of the Astonished, 2000). The spectacular polyptych Going Forth By Day (2002) is an ensemble of huge digital wall panels in the spirit of Giotto’s frescoes in the Assisi basilica, which Viola declares is the unequalled summit of art installation and his ultimate reference.
All four decades of Viola’s career are represented in the Grand Palais exhibition, from The Reflecting Pool (1977-79) to The Dreamers (2013): videos (Chott El Djerid (A Portrait in Light and Heat), 1979), monumental installations (The Sleep of Reason, 1988), portraits on plasma (The Quintet of the Astonished, 2000), sound pieces (Presence, 1995), video sculptures (Heaven and Earth, 1992), intimate works (Nine Attempts to Achieve Immortality, 1996) or super productions (Going Forth By Day, 2002). All the genres in Bill Viola’s oeuvre are there, and all his great emblematic series, from “Buried Secrets” of the US Pavilion, Venice in 1995 (The Veiling), to “Angels for the Millennium” series (Ascension, 2000), to the “Passions” series (Catherine's Room, 2001) to “The Tristan Project” (Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension, 2005), to “Transfigurations” (Three Women, 2008), to the “Mirage” series (The Encounter, 2012).
Viola sees this exhibition as an inner journey, divided into three phases around major metaphysical questions: Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going?
In his works he explores life, death, transcendence, rebirth, time and space, often using the metaphor of a body plunged into water to represent the fluidity of life. His images seek to give a new insight into these fundamental questions that are deep at the core of human existence.