Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2008 | Reviews

Voom Portraits, a UI Museum of Art Exhibit

By Tina Owen
Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Salma Hayek star this month in an exhibit that turns the UI Museum of Art into a spectacle of light and sound. The celebrities appear as part of an exhibit by avant-garde artist Robert Wilson, described by the New York Times as "a towering figure in the world of experimental theater and an explorer in the uses of time and space on stage." For the Voom Portraits, Wilson used high-definition video to take portraits of celebrities, animals, scholars, and average Joes in astonishing color and costumes. Each of the 30 portraits features original set design, lighting, and soundtracks inspired by musicians including Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Bach.

If the videos' final format is arresting, the process that led to their creation was equally innovative. During the full-day shoots for each portrait, Wilson instructed his subjects to "think of nothing" and to limit their movements to one or two very controlled gestures. Thus, in the blink of an eye, what appears to be a still life transforms into real life. A semi-clad Brad Pitt stares unwaveringly at the camera before slowly lifting and shooting a water pistol, while Princess Caroline of Monaco strikes a pose reminiscent of her mother, Grace Kelly, in the movie Rear Window, and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov poses as Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows.

Wilson has taken this acclaimed exhibit — which he calls "very personal...a document of our time" — to museums all over the world, but Iowa City is particularly meaningful to the artist. During a residency with the former UI Center for New Performing Arts in 1970, Wilson premiered one of his most successful works, a silent opera called Deafman Glance, at the Mabie Theatre.

Voom Portraits runs at the UI Museum of Art through March 30.