August 7, 2022

From Hollywood to Here: Moving Portraits of Robert Wilson

Isabella Rossellini sits motionless on a cartoonish three-legged stool, wearing unrecognizable white makeup, neon yellow pigtails, a blue and white dress and red tights.

Did his eyes move briefly? Maybe it was an illusion of light. Then, suddenly, the actor’s face and upper body come alive with rapid movements like a puppet on a string.

“It’s one of the glitchiest works,” says Rhana Devenport, director of the Art Gallery of SA, of Rossellini’s video portrait, one of 23 on display at the Robert Wilson: moving portraits Opening of the exhibition at the gallery this weekend.

“Normally there is this tremendous sense of stillness [in Wilson’s portraits]. He often said “fixed time is real time”, and it’s a hallmark of his theatrical work, but in this case, she doesn’t just look like this very well-known Japanese anime figure. [Sailor Moon]it is also broken.

Robert Wilson, Isabelle Rossellini, actress, 2005, HD video, music by Henri Rene and His Orchestra, voice by Robert Wilson; courtesy of RW Work Ltd.

Robert Wilson: moving portraits – which is presented exclusively at the AGSA alongside the national traveling exhibition Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize — was curated by Devenport, a longtime fan of the influential New York theater director and visual artist’s work.

She remembers seeing Wilson’s opera Einstein on the beach (created in collaboration with composer Philip Glass) in Melbourne in the 1990s.

“It shook me. Then 10 years ago I saw a solo exhibition of the video portraits, the VOOM portraits in particular, which was a body of 2004, in Singapore. And I thought, wow, this would be really great to show these works in this part of the world…I started having a serious conversation with him a few years ago and finally it came to fruition.So for me it’s kind of a dream come true .

Wilson has created over 70 high-definition video portraits of subjects ranging from burlesque star Dita Von Teese and Hollywood actors such as Brad Pitt, Lady Gaga, Winona Ryder and Sean Penn, to lesser-known international artists, everyday people and animals. .

The works blur time-based cinematography with the “frozen moment” of still photography, each incorporating elements found in film and theater design: lighting, choreography, makeup, costumes, set and sound.

The videos are only a few minutes long and play on a loop, so at first glance the portraits may seem static.

As Devenport explains in an essay accompanying the exhibition, “they are experienced as moving images, oscillating between action and stasis, both still videos and still moving images.”

For Robert Wilson: moving portraitsDevenport has chosen a selection of works that illustrate the depth and breadth of Wilson’s collection, which references aspects of pop culture as well as historical artwork.

In a Hitchcock-inspired portrait, Brad Pitt stands – wearing only white boxer shorts and socks – against a brick wall holding a gun; after being drenched in the rain, he slowly raises his arm and shoots directly at the viewer, revealing that his weapon is only a water pistol. The actor never takes his eyes off us.

Another piece features a portrait of Robert Downey Jr lying half-naked on a stone slab with muscles exposed in his raised left arm; it seems to be operated by a disembodied hand.

Bathed in greenish light, with Downey Jr’s chest gently rising and falling, this work has a Frankenstein feel, but actually references Rembrandt’s 1632 painting Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’s Anatomy Lesson.

Robert Wilson, ROBERT DOWNEY JR., Actor 2004, HD video, music by Tom Waits; courtesy of RW Work Ltd.

Lady Gaga held the same position for seven hours for her recreation of French neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ painting of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière, the daughter of a Napoleonic court official.

“She [Caroline] was around 12 or 13 and she sadly passed away a year later, so it’s very poignant I think, and refers a lot to the shortness of life,” Devenport says of Wilson’s portrayal.

“A single tear rolls down her face, she blinks once, and a snow goose flies overhead in this beautiful kind of recreation of this painting. You can tell the level of love he has for art history.

Lady Gaga
Robert Wilson, Lady Gaga: Miss Caroline Riviere, 2013, HD video, music by Michael Galasso; courtesy of RW Work Ltd.

Wilson’s video portraits are multi-layered, invariably capturing something of the sitter’s story or personality.

In her elegant monochromatic portrait of Princess Caroline of Monaco, she strikes a pose her mother, Grace Kelly, smitten in the Hitchcock thriller rear window.

Devenport explains that contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Huan’s portrait – in which he stands motionless while butterflies flutter around his face and upper torso – relates to a performance Huan made in 1994 titled 12 square meters in which he smears his naked body with fish oil and honey to attract flies.

“It was this really powerful statement about abjection and defiance and it got a lot of attention in the West…so it’s an elegiac and very exquisite tribute to this piece.”

For the AGSA exhibition, Wilson’s portraits have been grouped under eight themes: The Long Shadow of Happy Days, Nocturnes, Soul Mountain, Characters & Archetypes, The Sacred Covenant, Gods of Our Time, The Averted Gaze and Past Lives.

Adding another layer of interest and complexity to the display, Devenport and the gallery team selected rarely seen works and new acquisitions from AGSA’s collection to complement each video portrait.

“Sometimes the links are about the people themselves, sometimes they’re aesthetic, sometimes they’re conceptual,” says Devenport. “There are all these poetic connections. It’s really fun – it’s like a puzzle; an aesthetic and conceptual puzzle.

Exhibition curator Rhana Devenport with Chris Green, producer of Robert Wilson’s Video Portraits series. To their left is the portrait of Wilson WOUTER Bird on handdisplayed alongside an embroidered bird tapestry cape by design house Romance Was Born. Photo: Saul Steed

Next to the portrait of Gaga, for example, is a painting by French artist Louise-Adéone Drölling: it is from the same period as the portrait of Caroline Rivière, and the subjects wear similar dresses. On an adjacent wall is a balsarium (an ancient Roman glass vessel used to collect tears) and a sculpture by contemporary artist Timothy Horn with blown glass in the shape of a teardrop.

The most synchronous pairing, says Devenport, sees Wilson’s portrait of French actress Jeanne Moreau as Mary, Queen of Scots, hanging alongside a 17th-century portrait attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, the two subjects adopting equally regal and provocative poses and wearing surprisingly similar outfits. Clothes.

It is displayed in Gallery 12, apart from the actual exhibition, to act as a kind of bait to entice people to check out the rest of the moving portraits.

Other gallery works serving as “thematic touchstones” range from a marble sculpture of Aphrodite (displayed near the video portrait of dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in front of a Greek Corinthian column, which itself references paintings by Saint Sebastian by Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna) and a garment by designers Romance Was Born that is fashioned from a French tapestry and embroidered with Australian birds (displayed near the video portrait of Wilson WOUTER Bird on hand).

While Wilson’s celebrity video portraits may draw the most attention, his works capturing non-human subjects have their own animal magnetism. Among them are Ivory: Black Pantherexhibited near a stuffed puma from the AGSA collection, and BORIS, Porcupinewhich stands in front of a starry background and is accompanied by a soundtrack playing Bike designed for two (referenced in 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Robert Wilson, BORIS, Porcupine, 2006, HD video, music by Bernard Hermann; courtesy of RW Work Ltd.

In one of the most ethereal portraits, a majestic moose shrouded in mist exudes quiet dignity as it gazes up at visitors, each of its ears moving gently before it finally averts its gaze. Devenport says he draws inspiration from Wilson’s experience as a young boy in Texas, when he was forced to go deer hunting with his father.

“He was very disturbed by the whole process of killing but at the same time what he liked was the fact of being able to be in a hiding place and observe the animals… there is the idea of ​​the look, and the holding of the gaze between human and animal… it’s like a sacred alliance.

Robert Wilson, Norman Paul Fleming, auto mechanic, 2006, HD video, music by Hans Peter Kuhn; courtesy of RW Work Ltd.

According to the producer of Wilson’s Video Portraits series, Chris Green, who is here for the opening of the exhibition, each portrait takes a day to shoot, with an additional two weeks needed for the post-production editing process.

There’s a lot to absorb in the works, and visitors will be rewarded if they take the time to fully appreciate each one.

“It’s about asking us to slow down — the feeling of stillness, of time, of consideration,” says Devenport.

She adds: “It’s easy to say it’s a question of fame, but I don’t think it is at all. They are like love poems addressed to other artists, whether they are writers or actors.

Or, indeed, a dungarees-wearing auto mechanic named Norman Paul Fleming, who was working on the set of another shoot and co-opted by Wilson as a subject because he thought he had an interesting face.

“That’s why I really wanted that one,” Devenport said. “I didn’t want it to be just about Brad and Gaga because there’s so much more going on.”

Robert Wilson: moving portraits is at the AGSA until October 3. Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prizewho will travel nationally.

This article first appeared in InDaily. Read the original here.