Life, Death, Rebirth: Bill Viola/Michelangelo at the RA

A review of the exhibition that explores 'works of transcendent beauty and raw emotional power'

The Bill Viola exhibition at the Royal Academy advertises itself as a unique opportunity to see Michelangelo’s work alongside the work of the video artist Bill Viola but in reality, I personally find the links between the works tenuous and incongruous.

Entitled ‘Life, Death, Rebirth’, Viola’s works are designed to challenge the viewer. One work that stood out was his ‘Nantes Triptych’ that showed a video of a woman giving birth, alongside a suspended floating figure, alongside finally a video of the artist’s mother on her deathbed. The striking contrast between the start and end of life is challenging if not disturbing and really puts into context the fleetingness of life. He struggles, however, to portray the invariably fascinating complexity of life and the time in between life and death in the central panel. Viola’s works are large, immersive installations that your attention is immediately drawn to while Michelangelo’s drawings are only displayed in a few of the rooms and are hard to focus on while being distracted by the lights and sounds. This is a shame since the works are full of life and movement; they are erotic and violent and have a depth to them that Viola’s works don’t have.

Regardless of your thoughts on Viola’s work, I disapprove of his work being displayed in the same exhibition as one of the most talented artists to have ever lived. In my opinion, the artists are divided not only by 500 years but also by a huge difference in talent. But that is only my opinion so go see Bill Viola / Michelangelo at the Royal Academy, which is on until the 31st March, if you want to form yours.

Sophie VII