Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait @ The National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.

The American Art Museum shares its premises with the National Portrait Gallery, both being part of the Smithsonian Institution. First-time visitors may have a hard time distinguishing between the two, but that’s just a minor detail – what’s important is to allow time to enjoy some incredible works of American art, like Bill Viola’s ”The Moving Portrait” exhibit, which was running until May 2017.

I’ve been admiring Viola’s work for years, his use of video technologies, experimentation with portraiture and the fact that he always seems to submerge his subjects in water, an element present in -almost- his entire body of work. But, it was only recently I learned, coming across an interview on Louisiana Channel, that when Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, ”to a place which seemed like paradise”. That’s when he learned that “there’s more than just the surface of life” […] and ”the real things are under the surface”. That explains his fascination with water, also evident in ”The Dreamers”, a video/sound installation of 2013:

No water present in ”Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity” (2013), an installation in two frames, showing an elderly man and a woman, naked, inspecting their bodies with a flashlight.

But water is present with all its mighty force in ”The Raft” (2004), in which 19 perfect strangers unsuspectingly gather in a spot, as if waiting for a bus, when suddenly disaster strikes as torrents of water knock them down, leaving them gasping for breath.  

Bill Viola Interview on Louisiana Channel, including views from ”The Raft”:

National Portrait Gallery
Washington, D.C.

April 24th, 2017



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