Bill Viola in Paris

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Bill Viola in Paris

The venerable walls of Paris's Grand Palais have hosted blockbuster exhibitions by such safe bets as Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. Now the museum is gambling on the American artist Bill Viola's offbeat videos about life, death and the things we leave behind.

No water lilies here. Fifty screens show Mr. Viola's moody creations: People walk in a forest. A lonely woman in her bedroom does domestic chores again and again. The subject of the 11-minute "Fire Woman" stands in front of a wall of fire and eventually falls in water.

In video art, the 63-year-old Mr. Viola, a New York native, is one of the most influential creators. A smaller retrospective at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo attracted 340,000 visitors in 2007. The one at the Grand Palais is more exhaustive and includes pieces lent by private collectors such as French billionaire François Pinault.

The show in Paris opened March 5, and the first indicators of public interest are positive. The average number of visitors is above 2,700 a day—far below Monet's average of 7,000 per day but a strong showing for a video artist, according to exhibition curator Jérôme Neutres. The show is to run until July 21 and won't travel.


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