The Philadelphia Museum of Art this fall will present two important video works that will run continuously in the Modern and Contemporary Galleries. Debuting October 26, 2004, in the video gallery, Odysseus in Ithaca, a new piece by Peter Rose, evokes the travels of Homer’s Odysseus through the imagery of the Conshohocken parking garage in which it was filmed. Opening November 4, 2004, in gallery 177 Bill Viola’s acclaimed The Greeting (1995) is based on the biblical story of the Annunciation represented in The Visitation (1528-29) by Pontormo, the Italian Mannerist painter who provides a focal point for the Museum’s upcoming exhibition Pontormo, Bronzino and the Medici: The Transformation of the Renaissance Portrait in Florence (November 20, 2004-February 13, 2005). Both installations are organized by Melissa Kerr in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Revisiting his previous work with multiple-screen formats and time delays, acclaimed video artist Peter Rose’s Odysseus in Ithaca (2004, 10 minutes, DVD), presents heightened feelings of melancholy and isolation as the artist’s vision unfolds in three separate panels, creating mesmerizing visual juxtapositions as the individual elements move from screen to screen in a hypnotic choreography. The work will debut in the Museum’s video gallery and will be on view October 26, 2004, to January 2, 2005.
Filmed in a Conshohocken parking garage, the work begins at the garage’s uppermost level in a scene of pure, blurry sunlight. It then descends into the facility’s lower levels, creating an urban landscape that seems at once modern and antique, evoking ideas of ancient architecture.
While making this work, Rose drew on the writings of Homer, a source of artistic inspiration for many artists. The artist contemplated Odysseus’ travels following the fall of Troy, especially his depressing return to Ithaca, a city riddled with conflict during his absence. Rose envisioned the city’s new factions, consumed by greed, lust, and pride, and connected it to the modern world, predominantly in a broad political sense.
The artist also compared the work’s elements to the haunting paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, particularly the works that feature Ariadne, the princess of Greek mythology whose golden thread guided her lover Theseus out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. In Odysseus in Ithaca, the garage becomes just as complicated as the ancient maze, which Rose calls "a kind of machine, an architectural riddle that consumes one’s vision as one looks upon it, a labyrinth of some topological complexity, a place of mystery, emptiness, and power."
Viewers may relate to losing a car within a parking complex or being unable to find the exit. Odysseus in Ithaca, however, leaves the viewer perpetually trying find an escape route without the aid of Ariadne and her golden thread to help them navigate the dense architectural maze.
In conjunction with the Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici exhibition, the Museum will present The Greeting, 1995, by Bill Viola (American b. 1951), one of the foremost video artists of his generation. With three women acting out the scene in richly colored garments, Viola captures the essence of Pontormo’s painting but transports it to a contemporary setting with an austere urban backdrop. The work is on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Greeting was filmed as a single take from a fixed camera and is presented in slow motion. The 45-second encounter between the three women lasts 10 minutes, intensifying the movements, gestures, and emotions of the figures, creating a subtle but powerful choreography. Viola’s narrative, however, remains intentionally ambiguous; the actions of the three women are never fully explained, leaving the viewer to contemplate the meaning of the enigmatic greeting.