Bill Viola. Electronic painter
Bill Viola retrospective at Palazzo Strozzi, from March 10 to July 23
The Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi opens its rooms to the works of Bill Viola with Electronic Renaissance, in a major exhibition that celebrates the indisputable master of contemporary video art through his works produced between the 1970s and today, displayed in dialogue with the Palazzo Strozzi and in an original comparison with great Renaissance masterpieces.
Curated by Kira Perov, executive director of Bill Viola Studio, and Arturo Galasino, Director of the Palazzo Strozzi, we had the pleasure of previewing the show.
Born in New York in 1951, Bill Viola explores humanity: people, bodies, faces are the protagonists of his pieces, characterized by a poetic and strongly symbolic style in which man is called to interact with nature’s forces and energies, like water and fire, light and dark, the circle of life and the circle of rebirth.
The exhibition creates an extraordinary dialogue between ancient and contemporary for the first time within the Renaissance setting of Palazzo Strozzi, through the comparison of Viola’s works with masterpieces of the great artists of the past, which were inspirations for the American artist and marked the evolution of his style. It’s a deep and impassioned dialogue that continues throughout the city of Florence and the whole of Tuscany through collaborations with museums and places in the surrounding territory where other works by the artist will be on display, highlighting his relationship with Tuscan history and art.
Locations include the Uffizi Gallery and the Museum of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and the Museum of the Collegiate Church of Sant’Andrea in Empoli. For the occasion, the Palazzo Strozzi has also established an exclusive collaboration with the Grande Museo del Duomo in Florence: the videos Observance (2002) and Acceptance (2008) will be on special display: two celebrated works by Bill Viola dedicated to the themes of pain and suffering, highlighting a reflection on humanity and religious sentiment in contemporary society, which will “converse” with two symbols of the Florentine museum: the Penitent Magdalene by Donatello and the Bandini Pietà (also known as The Deposition) by Michelangelo.
“Electronic Renaissance is the largest and most complete exhibition ever realized on the artist,” explains Arturo Galansino, “Besides purely aesthetic or expressive matters, exploring the 40-year career of Bill also means observing decades of technological advancements, from the archaic monitors of the 1970s to plasma screens, in an increase of ever-more ambitious productions, from live shots of daily life to special effects to Hollywood scenography. Bill, for a while now, has hoped for an exhibition in Florence, his chosen city and one with which he’s had a long love affair. I’m very happy to have him here at the Palazzo Strozzi.
He arrived in Florence in 1974 to serve as the tecnico americano (American technician), as everyone affectionately called him, of art/tapes/22, the gallery and production centre run by Maria Gloria Bicocchi. And it was precisely the gallery director who coined his name electronic painter, an inspiration for the exhibition’s title.
In Florence, Bill discovered, in addition to the Renaissance, the true role of artworks within life, human and social.
“After a visit to the Uffizi, I felt strongly that museums were created for art and not that art was created for museums, as usually happened in the contemporary scene I left behind in New York,” the artist explained. “Many Medieval and Renaissance works that I saw in my first months in Florence weren’t created for museums. They were out in the community, in public places – cathedrals, churches, chapels, courts, monuments, government offices, city squares and palace fronts – and, what’s more, many works were still in the places they were commissioned to be in 500 years prior. The atmosphere was saturated with ideas of art and culture. I soon understood that here history was truly part of the present. And that the newest ideas circulated in a larger totality. I remember how I would often see a little old lady in the street that came out every morning to put fresh water or new flowers under a painting of Mother Mary in a small niche on the corner of her building. This provided a new context for my idea of artistic appreciation.”
The Florentine exhibition will see a discussion between Viola’s works and the masterpieces that inspired them: a venture already attempted in the past, but never realized before in such an ambitious manner.