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Voom Portraits by Robert Wilson Opens Next Week in Valladolid
'VOOM Portraits' - an exhibition of video portraits by the celebrated theater director and artist
Robert Wilson's new portraits are staged tableaux of artists, musicians, actors and other personalities, presented on high-definition flat screens. The sitters are captured in near-motionless poses, instructed by Wilson to 'think of nothing' and limit their gestures to one or two movements in very slow motion. Wilson's new portraits also include a series of animals: Briard dogs, South American horned frogs, black panthers, snow owls and porcupines, all captured in near immobility. The portraits manifest Wilson's acclaimed sense of color and light, and draw upon his interests in theater, design, music, cinema and performance.

Wilson collaborates with his human subjects to develop costumes and settings that hark back to past works of art, history or popular culture. The exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery will include a large portrait of Winona Ryder as Winnie, the main female character in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. Buried up to her neck in a mound of sand, Winona/Winnie gazes in the distance. As the sun rises and sets above her, some of Winnie's accessories in the play (a toothbrush, a handbag and a gun) progressively become visible and invisible again. The gallery will also present an installation of snow owl portraits, which Wilson filmed in front of a vibrant polka-dotted background.

Wilson describes the portraits, 'I think these works can be seen in numerous ways. They can be seen in museum spaces. They can be seen in subway stops. They can be seen in places where people are queuing in airports. They could be on the face of a wristwatch. They could be on TV. They could be an image in your home. They can be hanging on a wall. They could be in a fireplace - the way we have a fire. On a wall at home, they can be like a window - a window that shows us another world. It's something very personal. It's a document of our time. They are what I cali portraits.'

The project was commissioned and produced by VOOM HD Networks, which also provided the HD screens for this exhibition. VOOM is a pioneer in high definition televisión, offering a collection of 15 commercial-free HD channels, available nationally on the DISH satellite network. Among these is Gallery HD, a channel entirely devoted to the arts. In recent months, the company has also begun to launch HD channels internationally. In 2004, VOOM named Robert Wilson an Artist-in-Residence to develop a project which would showcase the aesthetic and technical brilliance of the emerging HDTV medium. VOOM PORTRAITS are the results of Wilson's creative endeavors in this médium to date.

In 2004 Robert Wilson approached VOOM HD Networks, a high definition network of channels owned by Rainbow Media/Cablevision, to support a new high definition video portrait series.

This video portrait series takes a minimalist approach but in a more theatrical setting punctuated by Wilson’s iconic lightening and high production values.

Portraits are infused with source materials found in the history of painting, design, dance, theater, photography, television, film, and contemporary popular culture. What is especially unique about these portraits is how Wilson situates the subject in a highly constructed or appropriated narrative. Ranging from historical to referential to serious to abstract, these portraits are always poetic biographies of their subjects.

The portraits are shot in the typical horizontal format for television/cinema and in the vertical orientation for exhibition on high-end flat screen monitors. Large monitors are used with the idea to size the subjects at a near 1:1 relationship between viewer and subject.

The portraits are looped so there is no discernible beginning or end, so as to run endlessly as a framed work of art. Each portrait has its own sound score that either draws from eclectic source music or is originally composed by some of Robert Wilson’s most important musical collaborators.

The final result may at first look like a still photograph but on closer inspection reveals Wilson’s heightened language of minimal movement, choreographed gesture and precise timing. The high production values in turn reveal Robert Wilson’s art in the shocking clarity and precision of high definition video.

To-date, the portrait series has been exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery (January 2007, New York), Phillips de Pury & Company (January 2007, New York), Ace Gallery (February 2008, Los Angeles), Pushkin Museum (scheduled Fall 2007, Moscow), University of Iowa Museum of Art (scheduled January 2008, Iowa). Future exhibitions are currently being scheduled.

VOOM PORTRAITS Robert Wilson is an exhibition of provocative high-definition video portraits by epochal avant-garde artist Robert Wilson. Working since 2004 as an Artist-in-Residence with VOOM HD Networks, a US-based television provider devoted to high-definition television channels that commissioned and produced this works, Robert Wilson has created video portraits that combine high-definition’s state-of-the-art clarity with his own distinctive artistic vision, a cross between photography, film, literature and sound.

The portraits, including celebrities, artists, intellectuals, animals, are presented on large-scale HD plasma flat-screens, and each work is accompanied by original musical scores.

The HD technology communicates Wilson’s poetic ideas in high-definition state-of-the-art clarity. Producing each portrait takes months to develop and the process includes set design, lighting, makeup and costumes. The dramatic and theatrical settings recall art history, popular culture, and are illustrated in stunning color.

An element of surprise is incorporated in each work with the use of movement. During the shoot, Wilson directs his subjects to “think of nothing,” and limits their movements to one or two gestures --such as a blink or tap of the foot-- that are delivered in a very controlled motion. The final products have undergone meticulous editing, and are looped so there is no discernable beginning or ending, creating an endless framed work of art. The effect is a riveting contrast between the still life and the real life. Initially, the final result may look like a still photograph. But then, the sitters perform a simple act — a small movement, a blink, a tap of the foot — and the experience of watching them changes entirely.

The underlying themes of Wilson’s environments are often based upon plays and art history, and add a layer of poignancy to the portraits. In the case of the celebrity images, the juxtaposition of the star with the memory of a character in a play or historical figure, creates clever and humorous vignettes that delve into the viewer’s memory, addressing the role of fame and vanity in the context of contemporary culture. For example, Princess Caroline of Monaco strikes a starkly elegant pose reminiscent both of her mother, Grace Kelly, in the film Rear Window, and of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X; Winona Ryder is the main character, “Winnie,” in Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days; and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov is posed as St. Sebastian pierced by arrows.

The last layer to Wilson’s work is sound. Each work features an individual soundtrack from musicians including Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Bernard Hermann, Michael Galasso, and Big Black. The music is innovative and serves as another way these “still lives” become “real lives.”

These groundbreaking video portraits stand alone as a unique art form and illustrate Wilson’s broad experience and skills as a seasoned artist. The portraits are a departure from contemporary photography and video art in that they are an intimate, alive and engaging environment for the viewer. When asked about the ideas behind the images, Wilson states “They are personal, poetic statements of different personalities.”

The video portraits are shot in both horizontal for television and cinema display, and vertical for gallery presentation on HD plasma flat-screen monitors. As Robert Wilson explains, “They can be seen in museum spaces. They can be seen in subway stops. They can be seen in places where people are queuing in airports. They could be on the face of a wristwatch. They could be on TV. They could be an image in your home. They can be hanging on a wall. They could be in a fireplace — the way we have a fire. On a wall at home, they can be like a window — a window that shows us another world. It’s something very personal. It’s a document of our time. They are what I call portraits.”

Robert Wilson’s work has been exhibited at museums internationally, including the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; with retrospectives at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Golden Lion award for sculpture at the 1993 Venice Biennale, first prize at the Biennial Internacional de Sao Paolo, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for lifetime achievement. Robert Wilson was born in 1941 in Waco, Texas and currently resides in New York City.

Text and Image by

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