Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, Death, Rebirth, Royal Academy - ★★★☆☆ - Until March 31, 2019


Is this an exhibition, a conversation or even a meditation? Actually it’s all three. In the darkened main rooms of the Royal Academy we navigate - sometimes awkwardly - past Bill Viola’s large video screens and Michelangelo’s drawings. The parallels with being in a cathedral are clear. And the subject matter is suitably heavyweight: essentially, the cycle of life. Viola frequently employs diptych and triptych formats. Water features a lot, usually suggesting ritual or redemption. The intention is to provide an immersive experience: would the content work as well scaled down? Veils in one piece offer relief from the hard-edged technology elsewhere. Michelangelo’s drawings are on a much smaller scale and require closer examination. They were made late in his career and if the themes of mortality and transcendence weren’t obvious enough, the curator hammers them home for us. Some of the draughtsmanship is breathtaking: how were such effects achieved using chalk? Occasionally (heretical idea) it’s a bit naff! The ‘Taddei Tondo’ sculpture of the Virgin and Child displays a very human bond but also Christ’s mortality. It is this duality of the physical and the spiritual that connects both artists. A stimulating dialogue between very different approaches, if a rather gloomy one.

Reviewed by A.L.


 Our Score:  ☆☆☆★★ 

WHEN, WHERE, GETTING THERE:
Until March 31, 2019
Daily: 10 am - 6 pm (last admission: 5:30 pm)
Fri: 10 am - 10 pm (last admission: 9:30 pm)
Royal Academy, Main Galleries, Burlington House
Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus
https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/bill-viola-michelangelo

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