And now, it’s the turn of London’s grandest religious edifice: Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral. Here, video artist Bill Viola’s 65-inch plasma screens will be showing video work on the theme of the Martyrs . You'll find it by the high altar and the American Memorial Chapel (Viola is from the US) and a second installation to join in 2015, called Mary , which the artist has conceived as a companion work.
It’s not Viola’s first work in churches by any means. In 1996 the artist installed a piece called Messenger in Durham Cathedral; in 2007 a Viola piece called Ocean Without a Shore premiered in Venice’s church of San Gallo as part of that city’s Biennale; while in 2008 his video triptych Study for The Path (2002) was placed in Milan’s Basilica di San Marco. Equally, it’s not even the first time for St Paul’s to show contemporary art. In 2010 it showed Antony Gormley’s Flare II and (going back to the mid-century) there's a gorgeous Henry Moore there as well.
But a permanent video installation in St Paul’s is truly something – the first moving-image artwork to be installed in a British cathedral or church on a long-term basis. And Viola is perhaps the only artist in the world who'd be able to pull it off. Since he showed his Unseen Images at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1993, including the astonishing Nantes Triptych - showing huge video images of actual birth and death - Viola has not only become the best-known video artist in the world, but also someone who manages to raise this often frustrating medium to a level where it is ineffable, intangible, awe-inspiring. In 2003 the National Gallery cemented his reputation by showing The Passions. Part of the power of his work is that it reflects the formal concerns of religious painting, such as the triptych and the altarpiece.
New Yorker Viola is himself said to be influenced by Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism, which suits St Paul’s fashionably polyglot approach. After all, most of its visitors these days are tourists rather than worshippers, drawn from a global and multi-denominational world of sightseers. So it’s appropriate to give them artworks that aspire the the condition of religion and spiritual experience, while also remaining open to multi-faith interpretation.
The commission also ties Wren’s domed, post-fire masterpiece with Tate Modern on the opposite bank of the Thames. St Paul’s treasurer Canon Martin Warner says that it “should attract some of the five million tourists who visit Tate Modern every year”. So as St Paul’s is at one end of central London’s magic corridor from Tate Modern, via the Millennium Bridge, to St Paul’s and the City of London, it provides potential for one of the best days out in the capital.There’s even another link: the stands for the screens on which Martyrs and Mary will be displayed have been devised by Sir Norman Foster , who also designed the Millennium Bridge. It's the perfect three-part set-piece: gallery, bridge, cathedral.
|What||Bill Viola, St. Paul's Cathedral, London|
|Where||St Paul's Cathedral, St. Paul's Churchyard, London , EC4M 8AD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||St. Paul's (underground)|
21 May 14 – 31 Dec 14, 12:00 AM
|Price||£16.50 (£14.50 concessions, £7.50 child)|
|Website||Click here for St. Paul's Cathedral Ticketing information and to book entry|