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ART INDEX: Bill Viola

This past weekend I finally managed to visit an incredible exhibition I have been meaning to visit for a long time. I am referring to Bill Viola. Icons of Light at Palazzo Bonaparte in Rome. The exhibition has been ongoing since March 5th, and the upcoming weekend is going to be the last weekend available to visit it. So, I cut it close! It is not the first exhibition that is dedicated to Viola’s work in Rome, as it was preceded by 2008’s Bill Viola: Visioni interiori, a survey exhibition organized by Kira Perov, presented in Rome at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni.

The ongoing exhibition has, once again, been curated by Kira Perov, executive director of Bill Viola Studio and Viola’s wife since 1979. Also, it has been produced and organised by Arthemisia in collaboration with the Bill Viola Studio. It is a tribute to the incredible works by Bill Viola, the foremost practitioner of video art from the 1970s to present.

Bill Viola (1951, New York) received a BFA in Experimental Studios from Syracuse University in 1973. During the 1970’s he lived for 18 months in Florence, Italy, as technical director of production for Art/Tapes/22, one of the first video art studios in Europe. Then, he started travelling a lot to study and record traditional performance art in the Solomon Islands, Java, Bali, and Japan. After staying in New York for four years, he was invited to the La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, by the cultural arts director Kira Perov. Perov joined him in New York a year later, where they married and began a lifelong collaboration working together. Since then, they have travelled the world, hungry for new experiences and for the interaction and to understand the most varied cultures.

Bill Viola, Observance (2002), still frame,

from the Bill Viola. Icons of Light exhibition at Palazzo Bonaparte in Rome

Bill Viola has been crucial to the establishment of video as a form of Contemporary Art and to the expansion of this art in terms of technology and content. Viola uses the medium of video as a means of exploration of sense and perception, both one’s own and that of the world surrounding each one of us. His works focuses on universal human experiences, such as birth, death, the relationship with the unknown and religion, and his works are rooted in both the Eastern and the Western art and spiritual traditions. Thus, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing people of different nationalities, cultures, and religions to come together and be united by the emotions ignited by his videos.

Bill Viola, The Greeting (2000), still frame,

from the Bill Viola. Icons of Light exhibition at Palazzo Bonaparte in Rome

In the Palazzo Bonaparte’s ongoing exhibition, by combining Eastern spirituality with the Western mindset, art history with video experimentation, and reflecting on Christianity and Buddhism, the artist brings his work to an unconventional site for this exhibition of Contemporary Art. His art engages in a dialogue with the magnificent space of the Palazzo Bonaparte, and the viewers passing through are captured by the Palazzo’s marvellous Baroque interiors that engage with the powerful video by the artist. The emotions, meditations and passions that emerge from his videos can take the viewer on an inner voyage, delivering a sense of peace and deep balance to those who are willing to immerse themselves in his art and go on this journey.

The exhibition includes works from the 70’s to the present, from videos delving into the relationship between man and nature to those inspired by classic iconology. Works from the past forty years are presented through a carefully selected grouping of 15 works, beginning with The Reflecting Pool of 1977-9 and concluding with the Martyrs series of 2014. With masterpieces such as Ascension (2000) and the works from the celebrated Water Portraits series (2013) he captures the viewers’ gaze and emotions.

Bill Viola, Ascension (2002), still frame,

from the Bill Viola. Icons of Light exhibition at Palazzo Bonaparte in Rome

The exhibition is, in fact, meant to be an immersive experience with the viewer as the subject of this experience. It is meant to be an inner journey through feelings, emotions, and a reflection on the meaning of human life and Viola’s relationship with society. Society is intended as a group of people who all live following the same rules, both civic and religious. The viewer is forced to reflect on the meaning of life and is confronted with impressive images that bring him to a parallel, yet so striking universe.

Since the early 1970s Viola’s video art works have been seen all over the world. Viola’s art has been featured in museums such as the Whitney Museum, the MOMA, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum and Viola represented the USA in the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995. His art has seen an incredible turnover in the mid ‘00s, as is clear from the picture below.

Bill Viola’s turnover from 2000 to 2020 (©



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