Bill Viola - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    James Cohan Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Chicago, Chicago Art Fair, May 11 – 14, 2001; Hanover, New Hampshire, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Permanent Collection Installation, July – October, 2002 (another example exhibited); Indianapolis Museum of Art, Permanent Collection Installation, July 2 – November 3, 2002 (another example exhibited); Dublin, Royal Hibernian Academy, Gallagher Gallery, Like Painting, October 10 – November 24, 2002 (another example exhibited); Rotterdam, Nederlands fotomuseum, Foto Biënnale Rotterdam, 2003 (another example exhibited); Genazzano, Castello di Colonna, Zero Visibility, March 8 – April 13, 2003 (another example exhibited); São Paulo, Paço das Artes, Reincarnated Painting, May 27 – September 9, 2004 (another example exhibited);
    Paris, Art Public Contemporain, Nuit Blanche, October 2 – 3, 2004 (another example exhibited); London, The National Gallery, Bill Viola: THE PASSIONS, October 22, 2003 – January 4, 2004 (another example exhibited); Hanover, New Hampshire, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Transcending Time: Recent Work by Bill Viola and Lorna Simpson, January 22 - March 12, 2005 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    F. Gierstberg and B. Vroege, eds., Experience, the media rat race: photography, art, architecture, fashion, publicity, advertising, entertainment, technology, Rotterdam, 2003, pp. 186-187 (illustrated); J. Walsh, ed., Bill Viola: THE PASSIONS, Los Angeles/London, 2003, p. 74 and 267 (illustrated); J. Thibodeaux, “Simple Complexities”, Nuvo, February 11, 2004; S. L. Berry, “Arts angels”, IndyStar, March 11, 2007

  • Catalogue Essay

    Bill Viola has explored themes of perception, memory, knowledge and humanity in his wealth of video work since the early 1970s. In the Passions series, devoted to human emotions, Viola underscores the pivotal influence human psychology has had, thru art history, and transforms this reality into a modern equivalent using his mastery of digital technology and set production.

    For the Passions Viola created four pieces that comprise his Quintet Series, five performers stand in close proximity to one another, exhibiting bouts of emotion so powerful that you are convinced it will consume and overtake the group. Slowed down to a 17:1 ratio, Viola enables every minutia to appear as a grandiose action, there is an oblique sense of crescendo as you stand in front of the screen. With no sound, the works appear in a serene focus, emphasizing the visual and physical display of the performers. Their distraught nature gives way to momentary lapses into calm expression, whereby the actors regroup and prepare for the next onslaught of emotion to move them. Oscillating between happiness, joy, grief, surprise, the characters in essence reveal a multitude of feelings.

    The Quintet of the Silent, 2000, is unique among the Quintet series. The cast of actors carefully and slowly emoting the most profound sense of sadness and grief are all male. Occasionally the figures show reverence toward one another, with a small gesture or touch, but for the majority of the work they act independently with no acknowledgement, or sense of contact. With a black background, the figures appear in a neutral space and allow the physiognomy of what dominates the viewers' focus. Psychologically charged, The Quintet of the Silent is at once somber and stunningly moving.

    Inspired by his time spent as Scholar-in-Residence at the Getty Institute in 1998, Viola created these works as a reflection of his studies and interest in Medieval and early Renaissance devotional painting. As the artist describes, “I’ve been looking at the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, when making art drastically changed. You not only had the development of vantage-point perspective, but you also had a population that was becoming increasingly mobile thanks to the money generated by a rising merchant class. People were hitting the roads, and all of a sudden there was a demand for private, devotional, illustrated prayer books. So artists started making little panel paintings that were latched and hinged, that you could close up and take with you. When you got to your inn, you could open it up and do your prayers: It was everyone getting their own laptop, basically. I’m interested in the art from such a period of transition, because I think we’re experiencing something similar today,” (B. Viola taken from interview with T. Griffin, “Man with a slow hand”, Time Out New York, November 16-23, 2000).

    For Viola, The Quintet of the Silent oscillates in his uniquely high-definition digital language, much like the nuances displayed in paintings such as Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Mocked, circa 1490-1500 (collection National Gallery, London) and Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi, circa 1495-1505 (collection Getty Museum, Los Angeles). Like these early Renaissance works, the devotee (viewer) subjects themself to a one-on-one interaction with the display. For the Medieval culture, it was believed engaging in this action would strengthen the religious ties to Christ and his suffering, just as praying would lend itself to a more pious nature. Just the same with Viola’s work, it is through looking and observing that we gain an appreciation for the power of silent language and expression. Viola reveals the power of the human condition and its existential character throughout history.


The Quintet of the Silent

Video installation comprised of single-channel color video on wall-mounted plasma display.
28 1/2 x 47 1/2 x 4 in. (72.4 x 120.7 x 10.2 cm).
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist and is from an edition of five.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York