Bill Viola - Contemporary Art Part I New York Monday, November 8, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    James Cohan Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, James Cohan Gallery, Bill Viola: New Work, October 14 – November 26, 2000 (another example); London, The National Gallery, Bill Viola: The Passions, October 22, 2003 – January 4, 2004 (another example)

  • Literature

    D. Frankel, “Bill Viola at James Cohan Gallery, ArtForum, December, 2000; J. Walsh, ed., Bill Viola The Passions, Los Angeles, 2003, p. 265 (illustrated); Y. Aznar, “Bill Viola Repertorio de Pasiones/Bill Viola: Repertoire of Passions,” Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Series VII, Historia del Arte, t. 17, 2004, p. 361

  • Catalogue Essay

    Union is a study in suffering and ecstasy.  A woman and a man are seen on two adjacent screens as a wave of emotional intensity comes over them, building in strength to an unbearable level.  Their bodies show the strain as they contort and struggle to withstand the mounting pressure.  A light above offers a possible way out, and they stretch and strain to reach it, raising their arms high above their heads.  Finally, at a moment of peak intensity, they release, and all stress and tension instantly leave their bodies.  They slowly lower their arms; eyes open in bewilderment, wonder and exhaustion as they return to their natural state transformed.
    The work is a document of the human condition and our longing/striving for completeness and perfection.  It is also a visual record of how extreme emotional pressure is physically manifest on the body as it assaults and stresses the psyche.  Under these conditions the two, mind and body, become one.  This expression of union is common to both spiritual and sexual practice.  However, in this work the man and woman appear on two separate screens and do not engage or acknowledge each other in any way.  They undergo their experiences in isolation.  Their solitary state and the black void that surrounds them emphasize the inner subjective nature of the event and its spiritual ground.
    Visually, the images have a sculptural as well as a temporal form.  The performers are seen naked from the waist up, recalling classical torso sculpture and the painted images of earlier versions of The Man of Sorrows in art history.  The couple’s actions are seen in extreme slow motion, making visible subtle nuances of gesture and expression.  Time becomes suspended for both performers and viewers alike, further lending a subjective quality to the images.  The source of the emotional wave overwhelming the two remains unseen and unknown to the outside observer.  Explanation and interpretation are free to circulate as a vital part of the viewing experience of this work.
    -Bill Viola



Color video diptych on two plasma displays mounted vertically, side-by-side on the wall.
40 1/2 x 50 x 7 in. (102.9 x 127 x 17.8 cm) overall.
This work is from an edition of five plus one artist's proof.  This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $242,500

Contemporary Art Part I

8 November 2010
New York