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Exhibition Review: Bill Viola / Michelangelo at the Royal Academy – 26th January to 31st March 2019

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The Royal Academy of Arts presents the work of the pioneering video artist, Bill Viola, with drawings by Michelangelo (1475 -1564) in an exhibition entitled Bill Viola / Michelangelo : Life, Death, Rebirth.  Both artists share a deep preoccupation with the nature of human experience and existence and the exhibition is  a unique opportunity to see major works from Viola’s career and some of the greatest drawings by Michelangelo, together for the first time. It is the first exhibition at the Royal Academy largely devoted to video art and follows Viola’s visit to the Print Room at Windsor Castle in 2006 to see Michelangelo’s famous drawings. The visit was a catalyst for this exhibition, which examines the affinities between the artists in seeking answers to some fundamental questions about life and death.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The exhibition is conceived as an immersive journey through the cycle of life, exploring the transience and tumult of existence and the possibility of rebirth. It opens with a group of works by both artists that reflect life and death,  Michelangelo’s The Virgin and Child with the Infant St John the Baptist, c. 1504-05, known as the ‘Taddei Tondo’ is featured opposite Viola’s Nantes Triptych, 1992 which consists of three screens that individually portray a woman giving birth, a figure floating and Viola’s own mother on her deathbed.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

One of the highlights of the exhibition is Michelangelo’s remarkable ‘Presentation Drawings’ of the 1530s (Royal Collection, London), the drawings were produced for a Roman nobleman and feature personal ideas on the nature of love and life. The drawings feature allegories on the nature of love and life with subjects matters that include the labours of Hercules and the fall of Phaeton.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Playing opposite these drawings is the video of Viola’s Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity, 2013 . Life-size images of a nude ageing man and woman are projected onto two black granite slabs like elderly Adam and Eve.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Viola’s Sleep of Reason 1988, The Reflecting Pool 1977-79 and Surrender 2001 offer differing views of reality taking the familiar but giving a glimpse of other worlds lurking in the background.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The final galleries include a series of works that consider mortality and the possibility of rebirth. These include Michelangelo’s drawings of the  Crucifixion and Viola’s epic works; the five screen installation Five Angels for the Millennium, 2001 and the large projections Fire Woman, 2005  and Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Waterfall Under a Mountain), 2005.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

This fascinating and thought-provoking exhibition offers a contrast between Viola’s large installations and Michelangelo’s small and intimate works. In the darkness of the galleries, Michelangelo’s drawings are illuminated which builds on the religious and classical imagery.  In comparison Viola’s large videos seem abstract and less defined, although they do offers some ideas of the nature of reality.  Both artist’s are finally consumed by the idea of the body as a vehicle for that final journey, they depict bodies falling and rising in an endless cycle towards the unknown.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the Royal Academy website here

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