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"Robert Wilson's Monumental 14 Stations Presented at MASS MoCA - Premier American Venue for Milestone Work"
2001-12-09 until 2002-10-31
North Adams, MA, USA United States of America

Robert Wilson's critically acclaimed, monumental interpretation of the Passion of Christ, 14 Stations, opened at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) on December 9, 2001. 14 Stations is a massive sculptural environment first created by the theater director/artist on the occasion of the year 2000 Passionspiele (Passion Play) presented last year in Oberammergau, Germany. MASS MoCA is the premier American venue for 14 Stations.

Invited by the organizers of the Passion Play to create a large outdoor installation in conjunction with the play's 40th consecutive presentation - the event has been staged in Oberammergau every decade since 1634 - Wilson designed a vast Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) along which the fourteen moments of the Passion of Christ are presented in a series of light, sculpture, and sound environments. The work is entered through a wide transept-like building, from which one proceeds down the nave, a boardwalk flanked by 12 Shaker-style chapels or cottages. Each cottage houses a dramatic tableau which can be viewed through a small window, with many of the scenes featuring sound and all dramatically illuminated in Wilson's precise, signature style. The tableaux vary - boulders dangle from the ceiling and slowly revolve; hand-carved red wolves menace the viewer against a backdrop of a romantic mountainscape; and stuffed birds soar with disturbing realism. For the final station, the apse, Wilson constructed a teepee of 25' tall saplings and thatch. At Oberammergau, 14 Stations was sited in a grassy meadow; at MASS MoCA the work will be reconstructed within the museum's nearly 300 foot -long Building 5 gallery.

The 14 Stations refers to the moments of passion through which Christ passed on the way toward crucifixion. In the Middle Ages pilgrims performed ceremonial reenactments of the suffering of Christ and the saints to attain spiritual enlightenment. Routes were ritual walkways, and the act of pilgrimage strengthened the identification of the pilgrim-worshipper with the story. In 14 Stations, Wilson explores this rich source of art-historical and religious imagery, translating themes typically reserved for painting, stained glass, and sculpture into environments that combine architecture, landscape design, and theater.

Wilson, however, does not offer a literal rendering of the 14 Stations, nor is the work intended as a religious reenactment. His personal, open-ended, and at times abstract interpretations of the Passion invite multiple readings, and visitors to 14 Stations need not be familiar with the symbolism of Christian thought to appreciate the piece. The installation integrates the traditions and visual languages of multiple cultures, and is abstract, rather than illustrational. Wilson offers a universal experience using the basic Christian story as the basis for a participatory theater. The visitor's own movement through the space as well as image, sculpture, light, and sound all become characters in Wilson's representation.

In writing about 14 Stations at Oberammergau for The New York Times John Rockwell noted, From the form 14 Stations has taken, it appears Mr. Wilson drew his pictorial inspirations not just from representations of Christian cathedrals, [Shaker] villages, and craggy Alps, but also from photos of nearby Dachau, Auschwitz and the ultimate Nazi killing machine, Birkenau, near Auschwitz...Whether consciously or subconsciously intended, the connection with the Holocaust adds a powerful resonance to this already moving and important work. Mr. Wilson is apparently trying to find a permanent home for 14 Stations most likely in the United States. If that happened, more people would have a chance to experience its beauty, and its disturbing undercurrents, themselves. Although the installation at MASS MoCA is not permanent, the premier United States presentation of 14 Stations in North Adams will be on view from December 9, 2001, through October 2002.

Born in Waco, Texas, Robert Wilson was educated at the University of Texas and Brooklyn's Pratt Institute. He studied painting with George McNeil in Paris and later worked with the architect Paolo Solari in Arizona. Moving to New York City in the mid-1960s, Wilson found himself drawn to the work of pioneering choreographers George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Martha Graham, among others artists. Wilson's theatrical works include Deafman Glance, Einstein on the Beach with Philip Glass, The Black Rider with Tom Waits and William S. Burroughs, the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down, Death Destruction & Detroit, Alice, Time Rocker with Lou Reed, POE-try, The Forest, Cosmopolitan Greetings with Allen Ginsburg, Alcestis with Laurie Anderson, Alice in Bed and Lady from the Sea with Susan Sontag, and Great Day in the Morning with Jessye Norman, as well as numerous operas.

A recipient of two Rockefeller and two Guggenheim fellowships, Wilson has been honored with numerous awards for excellence and in 1986 was the sole nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the CIVIL wars.

While celebrated for his theatrical pieces, Wilson is also firmly rooted in the visual realm. His drawings, paintings, and sculpture have been presented around the world, and he is the recipient of many prestigious awards including the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for lifetime achievement, as well as the Golden Lion for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Major Wilson exhibitions have appeared at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (February 1991); the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (November 1991); the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston (1991); and the Instituto de Valencia de Arte Moderno (September 1992).

Wilson's 14 Stations was commissioned by the city of Oberammergau to accompany its world-renowned Passion Play, and in particular to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the production. The Passion Play originated in 1633, when, to spare the city from the plague, the citizens made a vow to produce it. It was performed for the first time in 1634, and the citizens of Oberammergau have produced it continuously every 10 years since then. The play has become a major pilgrimage event, with over half a million visitors from all over the world coming to Oberammergau to see the play throughout its 20-week run through the summer and fall.

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