Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC
From 18 November 2016 to 7 May 2017
“Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait”—the National Portrait Gallery’s first exhibition entirely devoted to media art—offers a new interpretation of the work of the pioneering video artist as a career-long experimentation with portraiture. Since the early 1970s, Viola has been recognized for his groundbreaking and masterful use of video technologies, creating poetic works that explore the spiritual and perceptual side of human experience and search for a deeper understanding of the world around us.
Although Viola’s work has been the subject of numerous surveys, it has not been considered in terms of its sustained engagement with—indeed, reshaping of—the genre of portraiture. As the works in this exhibition reveal, Viola’s technological investigations rely on the language of the face and body, encouraging self-reflection as well as expressing the universality of our experiences and articulating metaphysical issues about our place in the world. No other artist has pressed us to confront these questions in such elegant, humanistic terms. “Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait” not only sheds light on forty years of artistry but also the ways that portraiture extends beyond likeness. Ultimately, it opens our eyes to the manner in which emerging technologies draw out our perpetual impulses toward self-representation and collective contemplation.
Bill Viola is considered by many to be one of the earliest innovators of video art, a form of creative expression linked to the cinematic tradition but far more immediate and malleable. Although many experimenting with video at the time veered toward conceptual art and irony, Viola took a different path, exploring spirituality and the contours of human consciousness.