14 Sep 2009, Posted by Eric Karstens in Off topic: Art, etc., 0 Comments

Bill Viola exhibition in Tilburg

On Saturday, 12 September, the usually serene De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in Tilburg, The Netherlands, was all abuzz with the vernissage crowd celebrating the opening of the Bill Viola exhibition called Intimate Works.

As promised, the exhibits were displayed in the so-called wolhokken, small rooms along one side of the large former wool factory exhibition space. With the intention to prevent daylight from shining into the darkened cabinets and thus making the video works appear even more gem-like and brilliant than usual, the curators had a tunnel-like hallway built along the entrances of the suite of 13 rooms.

Many of the works clearly benefited from this set-up. Catherine’s Room (2001) for instance, which is part of De Pont’s permanent collection, is normally displayed on a wall in thr brightly-lit general exhibition area. But now, in a shadowed cabinet, the five-channel piece became even more emphatic and meditative. Catherine’s Room shows in parallel one and the same woman in one and the same cloister cell or shack, yet light and ambience differ between the five views. The woman engages in activities typical for morning, afternoon, sunset, evening, and night, while a small window reveals the sequence of seasons outside.

Some other works would, however, have better come to their own in bigger spaces, such as The Lovers (2005) and The Last Angel (2002). Both works are in vivid colour, displayed on large flatscreens and play with the visual and dramatic qualities of water, the former (without sound) showing a couple trying to remain standing against a massive water spray onslaught from outside the frame, and the latter (with sound) using a reversed slow-motion technique to build up incredible tension for the explosive emergence of a human body out of a water basin. These video installations have such a scale and impact that they appear slightly overpowering or, at least, a bit unrewarding in their narrow confines.

The black-and-white Acceptance (2008) and the full-colour mourner’s procession of Observance (2002), on the other hand, agree with the small rooms even though they are of the same size as the abovementioned pieces.

Yet another impression leaves the six-channel colour polyptych Small Saints (2008). On screens roughly the size of A4 paper, people appear out of a black background, slowly walk through a curtain of smoothly falling water with drops and splashes spattering spectacularly, wait a moment, and then step back and vanish again.