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Getty Museum Unveils Major Exhibition of Recent Works by Video Artist Bill Viola

International Tour of Bill Viola: The Passions will debut
at the Getty Museum
January 24-April 27, 2003

September 23, 2002

Los Angeles—A large-scale exhibition of recent work by the pioneering video artist Bill Viola will premiere at the J. Paul Getty Museum on January 24, 2003 (note: new opening date) and remain on view until April 27 before embarking on an international tour. Bill Viola: The Passions will feature the debut of two new works, one of them jointly commissioned by the Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute. 

Never publicly displayed in Los Angeles, the 13 works in the exhibition include large projection pieces and smaller LCD and plasma flat panel displays exploring the human condition and its explosive range of emotions. Organized by the Getty Museum, Bill Viola: The Passions will travel to the National Gallery, London, from October 22, 2003 to January 4, 2004, and the Munich State Paintings Collection in the spring of 2004.

"We are proud to have collaborated with Bill Viola on this project," said Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "Over the years Viola has used video to expand the concept of art as it's presented by museums. Lately he's done so using older art as an inspiration, including paintings at the Getty. These new works will be an exciting discovery for everybody, even people who know Viola's work."

Based in Long Beach, California, Bill Viola (American, born 1951) is one of the most celebrated video artists working today. He has been producing influential art using film and video for more than two decades, exploring themes of time, consciousness, and self-perception in works that are rooted in both Asian and Western art and mystical traditions. Viola participated in the 1997–1998 Scholar Year at the Getty Research Institute on the theme "Representing the Passions." Participants studied the ways in which strong emotions have been represented and classified in the past—one of the richest topics in the history of art and drama. Viola not only studied the literature, he frequented the Getty Museum's galleries. He later began to make new works, inspired by medieval and Renaissance devotional paintings, which he called The Passions (2000–2002), exploring ways in which the face and body can express an endless range of emotional states. 

The exhibition at the Getty brings together for the first time the key works of The Passions and presents two new works in the series, including the latest, the Getty commission, Emergence (2002). The piece is based on a fresco painting of the Pietà by the 15th-century Italian artist Masolino that represents Christ half-length in the sarcophagus, being supported on either side by his mother and St. John. Emergence shows two women looking into a well from which a deathly pale man slowly rises to the surface; with increasing effort, they lift him from the water and lay him out. Shot in 35mm film, transferred to HD video and greatly slowed, the image has a dazzling clarity that reinforces the poignancy of the act. A short film by Mark Kidel, commissioned by the Getty and tentatively titled Bill Viola and the Making of Emergence, will be shown at the Museum in connection with the exhibition. The film portrays the key stages of the making of Viola's new piece and explores his sources and influences.

The second new work, Observance (2002), shows 18 performers moving forward one by one, reacting to a distressing sight, and retreating. Tightly framed and hypnotically paced, it is a moving study in the varieties of strong feeling and their expression.

Other works featured in Bill Viola: The Passions include Silent Mountain (2001), a study of the onset and aftermath of an explosive emotional outburst that is also a moving visual record of the human capacity for pain and renewal, and Six Heads (2000), which examines six different emotional states—joy, sorrow, anger, fear, awe, and sleep or dream—expressed by the same actor on a single screen. In addition, one of Viola’s most ambitious installations to date, Five Angels for the Millennium (2001), fills a large gallery with video projections of a man emerging from water and ascending, angel-like, accompanied by suspenseful and explosive sounds.

Also in the exhibition is The Quintet of the Astonished (2000), commissioned by the National Gallery in London,which was inspired by its Hieronymus Bosch painting Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns). A related work, The Quintet of Remembrance (2000), was acquired in 2001 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is the first major video installation in its collection.

"One great thing about Bill's work is the response it gets from people who don’t think they like contemporary art," according to John Walsh, curator of the exhibition and director emeritus of the Getty Museum. "These pieces make a visceral and often spiritual connection. In looking at them, you have time to test and explore your own ways of feeling and responding to others." 

In 1995, Viola represented the United States at the 46th Venice Biennale with his critically acclaimed installation Buried Secrets, and he was also featured in the 2001 Biennale. In 1997, a mid-career retrospective Bill Viola: A 25-Year Survey was shown at six museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum für Moderne Kunst and Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago.

Viola’s other solo exhibitions include: Bill Viola: Going Forth By Day at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2002) and the Guggenheim, New York (2002–2003); Bill Viola: Five Angels for the Millennium and other New Works at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London (2001); Bill Viola: New Work at the James Cohan Gallery, New York (2000); Bill Viola: Unseen Images/Nie gesehene Bilder/Images jamais vues, organized by the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1992) and shown at several European museums; and Bill Viola: Installations and Videotapes at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1987).

Catalogue and Related Programming:

The short film, tentatively titled Bill Viola and the Making of Emergence, directed by award-winning British filmmaker Mark Kidel, will be shown in the Museum Lecture Hall daily, January 24 through April 27, every 15 minutes beginning on the hour, unless otherwise noted. The Museum will also offer a range of related programs including "conversation" lectures, Point-of-View Talks, a video festival, and a concert. Two books related to the exhibition will also be published. The Getty Museum's book, also called Bill Viola: The Passions, is edited by John Walsh, with essays by Peter Sellars and Walsh, a conversation between Hans Belting and Bill Viola, and descriptions and documentation by Viola and Kira Perov. The Getty Research Institute will offer a separate publication based on the Scholar Year theme Representing the Passions: Histories, Bodies, Visions. Edited by Richard Meyer, the book will feature 13 essays, including a visual essay by Viola. The publications will be available in the Museum Bookstore, online at, or by calling 800-223-3431.

Note to editors: color images available upon request.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.