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  • Special Installation: Bill Viola

    Bill Viola, Union, 2000, color video diptych on two plasma display flat-panel monitors, 102.8 x 127 x 17.8 cm, Don and Mary Melville and the Sarah C. Garver Fund, 2001.101

    Bill Viola, widely recognized as a leading voice in video art, has been a pioneer in the use of the medium since the 1970s. His work frequently reflects his deep engagement with art and spirituality and often bears a formal and emotional kinship to late Medieval and Renaissance art. Union (2000), the first work by the artist to enter a public collection in New England, is installed in the Medieval gallery alongside works whose heightened emotional realism is similar to that which served as the artist's inspiration.

    In Union, two flat display screens hanging side by side on the wall like framed paintings depict a nude female and male struggling in unison to reach upward. Although they undergo a shared “emotional wave,” the figures experience this intensity in isolation, never responding to one another. Viola's “study of suffering and ecstasy” is a visual record of conditions under which the mind and body become one (a union common to spiritual and sexual experiences). In video, Viola translates the single moment of traditional painting and sculpture into an action unfolding over time. The silent presence of the Viola and the figures' gestures—presented in ultra-slow motion—echo the attenuated body language and emotional gazes of many of the religious subjects in the Medieval gallery, including a crucified Christ, a mourning Virgin, and the Agony in the Garden.