Author: Jacob Willer

Old Masters Remix: A review of ‘Life Death Rebirth’, the Michaelangelo/Bill Viola exhibition at the Royal Academy

The Royal Academy in London has mounted an exhibition with the very serious title of “LIFE DEATH REBIRTH,” putting video installations by the American artist Bill Viola (b.1951) together with some drawings by the Renaissance master Michelangelo (1475–1564). Museum curators have increasingly been foisting such juxtapositions on us, because it is their job to worry about how we should respond to art and right now it feels as if the Old Masters are losing their appeal. Their religious and mythological themes no longer seem so “relevant,” because the will, and the incentives, to understand them are gone. So this new curatorial strategy, which we might call the “Old Master Remix,” is contrived to bring in different crowds at once: a bit of fashionable Contemporary Art will help to cause a stir, while conferring relevance again on the old by showing how it happens to resemble the new. Equally, the most illustrious works of the past can help to confer a certain historical credibility on the contemporary artworks displayed alongside them—the association alone is enough to …