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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
Note: New Opening Date

November 15, 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 expansive 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 30 years, exploring themes of time, consciousness, and self-perception in works that are rooted in both Eastern 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 immersed himself in the literature, he frequented the Getty Museum’s galleries to study paintings in the collection. 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 seated by a well from which a pale young man slowly rises to the surface; with increasing effort, they lift him from the water and lay him out on the ground. Shot in 35mm film, transferred to High-Definition 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 titled Bill Viola and 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 of individual expressions of mourning and loss within a community.

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 plunging into water and floating, angel-like, accompanied by a mysterious and expansive landscape of sound.

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 (TheCrowning 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 personal response it elicits 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).

Note to editors: color images available upon request.

Related Programs and Publications

In The Passions, celebrated video artist Bill Viola explores how changing facial expression and body language convey emotional states. This large-scale presentation of 13 recent works, never before seen on the West Coast, features the debut of two new pieces, including a Getty commission. Companion programs and publications, listed below, bring additional insight into the work of the artist.

All events are FREE and are held in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call 310-440-7300 or visit Tickets are available on-site or by phone.

The Museum’s Audioguide includes an exhibition introduction by curator John Walsh, with commentary by Bill Viola. It features the artist’s reflections on Getty paintings that inspired him, and contains remarks by award-winning filmmaker Mark Kidel about his documentary on Viola. The Audioguide is available in the Entrance Hall for $3.

Introduction to the exhibition at 1:30 p.m., with optional post-exhibition viewing discussion at 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday–Sunday, beginning February 4. No reservations required.

The Passions: Bill Viola and John Walsh in Conversation
Pioneering video artist Bill Viola and Getty Museum director emeritus John Walsh discuss the exhibition Bill Viola: The Passions, which features works that explore the power and complexity of human emotions. This exhibition presents the Los Angeles debut of 13 works including two new works, one of which was commissioned by the Getty.
Exhibitions Pavilion will be open.
Thursday, January 30, 7:00 p.m.  Reservations begin December 23.

Bodies of Light: Peter Sellars and Bill Viola in Conversation
Pioneering video artist Bill Viola and Peter Sellars, world renowned director of opera, theater, and film, discuss the historical sources of Viola’s recent work, and the role of the visual arts, theater, and technology in representing the human condition within contemporary society.
Exhibitions Pavilion will be open.
Thursday, February 27, 7:00 p.m.Reservations begin January 25.

Weba Garretson, a singer and performer who has participated in numerous Bill Viola videos, discusses the exhibition.
Friday, March 7,
6:00 and 7:30 p.m. in the Exhibitions Pavilion. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Andreas Deja, a supervising animator at Walt Disney Studios who has been with the studio for more than 20 years, discusses how gesture and facial expression can communicate mood in connection with the exhibition.
Friday, March 21,
6:00 and 7:30 p.m. in the Exhibitions Pavilion. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Bill Viola and Emergence
An original short film, directed by award-winning British filmmaker Mark Kidel, portrays the key stages of the making of Viola’s new piece, which was commissioned by the Getty and inspired by a fresco painting of the Pietà by Masolino, the Florentine collaborator of Masaccio. The film explores Viola’s sources and influences. The shooting of Emergence is seen in live footage made in the artist’s studio, and there are interviews with key contributors, including the artist, actors, and crew members.
Tuesday–Sunday, January 24 through April 27, every 15 minutes beginning on the hour unless otherwise noted, Museum Lecture Hall.

Bill Viola Video Festival
Bill Viola has been creating videotapes and installations for 30 years. This two-day festival features a selection of single-channel works from 1972 to 1994. As well as their presentation in museums and educational institutions, many of these works have been broadcast on television worldwide.
Friday, February 21, 7:00 p.m., Saturday, February 22, 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. Reservations begin January 25.

Gordon Getty Concert
A Light through My Tears: The Music of Hamza el Din
With his transcendent playing, gentle voice, and exquisite compositions, oud/tar master Hamza el Din is acknowledged as the father of modern Nubian music. In a rare Southern California performance, el Din performs his Sufi-inspired music with celebrated musicians: cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, percussionist Ian Dogole, pianist W. A. Mathieu, and vocalist Devi Mathieu.
Saturday, March 22, 8:00 p.m., Tickets: $22; $15 students/seniors

Friday Nights at the Getty
The Shape of Emotion
An evening of discussion and performance featuring Bill Viola and some of the actor/performers who worked with him in creating The Passions. With John Fleck, Weba Garretson, Dan Gerrity,Valerie Spencer, John Hay, and Sarah Steben. As a way of illuminating the process, performers share excerpts from their own work and Viola shows video clips of work studies.
Friday, March 28, 7:30 p.m., Reservations begin February 25.

Publications are available in the Getty bookstore, online at, or by calling 800-223-3431.

Bill Viola: The Passions
Edited by John Walsh
The book explores the genesis and meaning of this extraordinary suite of works, and examines the intellectual and spiritual concerns that have preoccupied Viola over the years, forming the foundation of his life’s work.
Includes essays by Peter Sellars and John Walsh, a conversation between Hans Belting and Bill Viola, sources and notes on the works by Viola, and visual documentation by Kira Perov. (Cloth: $75.00; Paper: $45.00)

Representing the Passions: Histories, Bodies, Visions
Getty Research Institute Issues & Debates series
Edited by Richard Meyer
In 13 essays, including two visual essays by contemporary artists, this 312-page book traces how our ideas of the passions—of extravagant emotions such as joy, sorrow, fear, and wonder—have both shaped and been shaped by representation, from classical antiquity to the present. (Paper: $40.00)

Between Heaven and Earth: Images of Christ and the Virgin
Part human and part divine, the dual nature of Christ and the Virgin is most pointedly revealed in depictions of their final days, as seen in this exhibition featuring drawings, prints, and illustrated books from the 16th through 18th centuries. The humanity of their pain and suffering is explored in the Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion; while their divine triumph over mortality is celebrated in the Resurrection and the Assumption of the Virgin. Artists include Federico Barocci, Peter Paul Rubens, and Charles Coypel.
March 18–June 29, 2003

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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.