Browse the reactions of other viewers to Viola's work below.
These reactions were submitted to this site between January 17 and April 28, 2003. The site is now closed to new reactions.
The opinions presented here may have been edited and do not reflect the opinions of the Getty.
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The following is an excerpt from an essay submitted to this site.
Observance suggests many possible narrative contexts, making the work highly evocative... The title is a pun: the
characters are clearly observing something or someone, while an "observance" is a day set aside for ritualized remembrance...
A line of figures step one-by-one towards the picture plane and gaze out at an unseen presence that provokes intense grief. Are
they rubber-neckers viewing a body in the street? Are they looking at us, pitying the human condition itself? The crowd also resembles
the circulation of viewers in front of a work of art...
Like the figures in the frame, the viewers in the gallery are deliberately choosing to line up and observe something that may provoke
grief. Why do people deliberately choose to look at things that make them sad? Is it out of duty? Respect? Morbid curiosity? A desire
for vicarious emotion? A reawakening of dormant but vital emotions?...
Observance suggests that even in our darkest hour, the human impulse for community remains... I noticed people watching
Observance instinctively reach for their friend or relative's hand. Art can depict human community and sometimes contribute
to it as well.
I found the work sensual, immersive, and thought-provoking. In Observance, my thoughts traveled to the war in Iraq.
"...each of the eighteen actors moves to the front and confronts a disturbing sight (which we cannot see), struggles with emotion,
then moves away."
No matter who we are or where we live, we are all connected by common threads of passion and grief. What is being viewed is not
important, what matters is that we can empathize with the emotions of the participants.
We recognize we have been there before and the wise amongst us are acutely aware that it is only a matter of time before
we are destined to focus our lenses on such a view again.
Wow. It was like having a vicarious emotional breakthrough. We are all feeling so much all the time but it is rarely so
visible. Incredible experience!
I have been writing a series of papers on the work of Bill Viola and have seen the exhibition several times. It wasn't until
after I contemplated the works and wrote about them in depth that I began to realize the true depth of Viola's contribution to the
world of contemporary art. As a student of art history, this has completely and deeply affected me. He has added a new dimension to
I saw the banners for Viola's show at the Getty and got there as fast as I could. He moves me in the way few modern artists do.
My favorites are the room pieces like Five Angels where I could sit at one end of the room and watch the sounds and color
unfold. Viola's work comes from the past, yet looks into the future... People will sit and stare at the work...with other people...not
wanting to be rude and step in front. This becomes another part of the piece.
I also really enjoyed Catherine's Room. Rooms are like years, but she is in all of them. The idea of all the many
Catherines gives the viewer the sense of alternate realities.
This is exceptional work—deep, rooted in the most intense emotional experience of western art. It is both meditative
and intensely realized in human terms. The surface calm is belied by the feelings that the art evinces from the viewer-participant.
Great work...and great idea to make video act as a painting but I think it still could be sped up a tad bit.
My first reaction was to think that these were holograms. However, slowing down is well rewarded. Motion creeps into the scene!
The use of LCD monitors and large screens is extremely effective, particularly in the final dark room, where patience is again
rewarded. I was never sure what I was watching until the final seconds. Brilliant.
Mesmerizing! I have shared the experience with some of my high school art students and they too were amazed. For days
we discussed his work and how it related to great works of art throughout history. What a great learning experience!
I am fortunate to have been at the Getty Museum to enjoy the works of Bill Viola. In my opinion it is the most relevant work
of art in these modern days. I was under the impression that still painting that resembled the paintings of Albrecht Dürer and
Masolino (Tommaso di Cristofano) came to life right in front of me. Questioning my sanity I said do I imagine this is moving? Viola's
work made my day.
Never before have I walked into a gallery and felt that I was witnessing a truly new form of art. After experiencing Mr.
Viola's works I feel a greater sense of how our emotions provide a thread of continuity through history and how they are what
fundamentally defines our humanity and connects us all. I would like to thank Mr. Viola and also the Getty for presenting such
an important body of work.
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