Viola vs. Michaelangelo

Off we went yesterday to the revamped Royal Academy, looking very splendid with its new loos under the freshly carved out arches under the main stairs. Fabulous to have enough loos to go round in the ladies, too, a first in any art gallery, and don’t even get me started on theatres.

Bill Viola/Michaelangelo

Little did we know until later, but the Tetrapak heirs the Rausings were giving the RA £10 million yesterday to keep their school going, which makes our £6 contribution for a couple of teas rather small beer.

We’d come to see the Bill Viola and Michaelangelo exhibition. A bit of an odd juxtaposition, shoving the wonder of the Renaissance hard up against a late twentieth century video artist, but it made more and more sense as I went round. My companion stuck to her view that they hadn’t had enough Michaelangelo material to do the whole exhibition just on him, but I think the videos did add something.

I’d thought I’d have my nose pressed up against the collection of black, white and red chalk drawings (mostly lent by the Queen) and my back to the grainy videos. But in fact I found the films rather interesting. They were all on the subject of birth, death and limbo, which could be before or after death, so I suppose fitted roughly with Michaelangelo’s preoccupation here with the resurrection and crucifixion. And I do always find Michaelangelo’s muscular women rather repulsive. There was one here with the most aggressive bosoms I’ve ever seen. If he wasn’t so good at renditions of the Virgin Mary I’d say Michaelangelo was an out-and-out woman hater.

I rather loved the film in the first room, showing a man submerged who was constantly bobbing either to the surface or diving down deep into the water. The fact that he looked rather Christ-like (though he could have just been a penniless artist from the 1070s) helped. And the Michaelangelo I liked best was a resurrected Christ who seemed to be spinning out of his grave, back into life. Rather similar.

It’s an interesting exhibition, and always worth it to get a close-up of Michaelangelo’s work. Have a look and tell me what you think.

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