Robert Wilson Video Portraits @ Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens [exhibition closed]


stage director and playwright; choreographer and performer; painter and sculptor; sound and lighting designer; furniture designer; video artist

founder of the byrd hoffman school of byrds in 1968 and its successor, the watermill centre in 1992, bringing together artists and scholars from all disciplines to collaborate & explore on new artistic and theatrical forms

pulitzer prize, tony award nominations; two guggenheim fellowship awards; golden lion for sculpture from the venice biennale, an OBIE award and the national design award for lifetime achievement

creative genius; controversial; rule breaking; mysterious; mesmerizing; incendiary, influential, contradictory, puzzling, other-worldly, mischievous, unclassifiable

… or, if you have lost count already…

two words

Robert Wilson


There is nothing I could write about Wilson that has not already been written or spoken. Ever since the international success of Einstein on the Beach, Wilson won Europe’s [heart] critical acclaim long before his native U.S. succumbed to his charm. Since then, the love affair between Wilson and this continent is still going strong and, as a result, European cities are often on the map whenever a production is on tour.

This year, between 5 April – 7 July, Athens was one of these cities and the Onassis Cultural Centre, the proud host of Wilson’s Video Portraits, with 43 of them on display. They were arranged in a large, windowless exhibition area at the Centre’s underground level which was dressed for the occasion, in a wall-to-wall thick black carpet, a perfect light and sound absorber, allowing for unperturbed focus on the large HD plasma flat-screens.



Also known as VOOM portraits, they were commissioned and produced by VOOM HD Networks, a US-based television provider devoted to high-definition television channels, and created progressively between 2004 and 2009. According to the exhibition’s leaflet, three of them (Juliette Binoche, Sean Penn and Horned Frog)  were actually produced by the Onassis Foundation and Athens was their world premier.

A true Wilson production, the portraits are an amalgam of photography, film, literature, painting & sound. A perfect example of his famous collaborations, they include celebrities, artists, intellectuals and animals and each work is accompanied by musical scores. Just like their creator, they work in multiple levels: flashy colours will capture your attention; be patient and a slow, subtle, movement will capture your imagination. Their story unfolds in a repeated, endless loop.

Wilson, himself, described them: “I think these works can be seen in numerous ways. They can be seen in museum spaces. They can be seen in subway stops. They can be seen in places where people are queuing in airports. They could be on the face of a wristwatch. They could be on TV. They could be an image in your home. They can be hanging on a wall. They could be in a fireplace – the way we have a fire. On a wall at home, they can be like a window – a window that shows us another world. It’s something very personal. It’s a document of our time. They are what I call portraits.”

Here is just a fraction of stills (click on Dissident USA to see them all, including moving images). Or better yet, if and exhibition opens anywhere near you, don’t miss your chance to be thoroughly impressed! Let’s not forget that Wilson is a minimalist on a maximal scale; in his world, size does matter!

Isabella Rossellini

Isabella Rossellini (2005)
Music by Henri Rene & His Orchestra – Voice by Robert Wilson


Dita von Teese – Burlesque Performer 2006)
Music by Ethel Merman


Johnny Depp (2006). He is posing as RRose Selavy, the female alter ego of Marcel Duchamp as photographed by Man Ray in 1921.
Music by Hans Peter Kuhn – Voice by Robert Wilson
Text by T.S. Eliot and Heiner Mueller

Mikhail Baryshnikov (2004).
Music by Michael Galasso


Suzushi Hanayagi – Dancer and Choreographer (2009)
Music by David Byrne


Farah Pahlavi – Empress (2006)
Music by Popul Vuh


Gao Xingjian – Writer (2005)
Music by Peter Cerone

Wilson Video Portraits: Juliette Binoche

Juliette Binoche (2005)
Music by Nino Rota


Princess Caroline of Monaco (2006).
Music by Bernard Hermann
Based on a painting by John Sargent, the portrait of Madame X and a film scene by Alfred Hitchcock, the classic ‘Rear Window’ starring her mother, Grace Kelly and James Steward. The music is from Vertigo, another famous Hitchcock film.

Wilson Video Portraits: Sean Penn

Sean Penn (2006)
Music by Mogwai


Jeanne Moreau (2005)
Music by Ludwig van Beethoven – Voice by Robert Wilson
Text by Daryl Pickney

Exhibition tour – upcoming dates (more info on Dissident USA):

St. Moritz Art Masters – St. Moritz Switzerland – August 23 – September 1 2013
National Museum of Art Cluj – Cluj Romania – 2013
Georgian National Museum – Tbilisi Georgia – 2013

part of
Athens 03 – 06 June 2013

2 thoughts on “Robert Wilson Video Portraits @ Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens [exhibition closed]

    • I agree! Wilson is a master in producing gorgeous stuff… I’ll be following him more closely in the future, although it’s hard to keep up… he is really hyperactive with no signs of slowing down!

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