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Inspiration for Bill Viola’s The Greeting was taken from Jacopo da Pontormo’s great Mannerist painting The Visitation (1528-29; Parish Church of Carmignano, Italy), which portrays the joyous moment at which Mary tells her cousin Elizabeth that she is expecting a child. Unless the viewer is familiar with this specific event from the New Testament, as described in Luke (1:39-56), the scene seems, as the title indicates, a simple greeting. The work begins with two women--one middle-aged and the other younger--engrossed in conversation. After several minutes pass by, a third woman enters the scene and interrupts the dialogue by greeting the older woman. Through facial expressions and gestures, it becomes apparent that the middle-aged woman knows her well, while the other less so and maybe not at all. The third woman whispers something into her friend’s ear as they embrace, further isolating the other woman. An undeniable awkwardness becomes apparent as introductions are finally made and small talk is exchanged among the three.
Yet Viola was not interested in restaging The Visitation, but wanted to use "it as a guide to make something new." He captures the spirit of Pontormo’s painting, as seen in the women’s richly colored garments, but transports it to a contemporary setting, with industrial buildings and a seemingly austere urban background. Filmed as a single take from a fixed camera and presented to the viewer in slow motion, the 45-second encounter is made to last ten minutes, intensifying the movements, gestures, and emotions of the figures into a subtle, but powerful choreography. The narrative, however, remains intentionally ambiguous--the actions of the women (three, rather than two) are never explained, leaving the viewer to speculate on the precise meaning of this enigmatic greeting.
This special video exhibition is being shown in conjunction with Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici: The Transformation of the Renaissance Portrait in Florence.
Bill Viola (American, born 1951) has been working in the video medium for over thirty years, and is considered a leading figure on the international art scene. The artist became interested in the electronic medium at an early point in his life--at the age of nine, he became captain of the "TV Squad" while attending P.S. 20 in Queens, New York City. Just over a decade later, after studying electronic music, video, and painting, Viola graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Experimental Studios (1973). Since then his work has appeared at countless museums and galleries, and was the subject of the 1997 traveling exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, which surveyed twenty-five years of the artist’s career. "The Greeting," which was included in this major exhibition, debuted two years earlier at the 46th Venice Biennale (US Pavilion) as part of an ensemble of five installations collectively entitled "Buried Secrets."
For more information on Bill Viola, please visit www.billviola.com.