Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson has been interested in the theater since he was an adolescent. He studied business and, after moving to New York, he soon courses in architecture and design. In New York, he became interested in the choreography of such modern dance masters as George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Ann Halprin, and he attended the classes of Martha Graham. In 1963, he made an experimental work called Slant. He also designed décor and costumes for several artistic events and studied painting in Paris. In 1969, he made his debut in New York with The King of Spain and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud. Among his most important works, these two productions involve theatrical images combined with an innovative use of light and time.
He was subsequently highly praised for his Deafman Glance, a silent “opera” made in collaboration with Raymond Andrews, a deaf and mute boy Wilson had adopted. From that moment on he presented new productions including Ka Mountain and Guardenia Terrace, lasting seven days in Shiraz (Iran) in 1972, and The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin, another silent work lasting twelve hours, presented in New York in 1973 and subsequently in Europe and South America. During the nineties, for the Thalia Theater of Hamburg, he created a series of musical works, the fruit of collaboration with musicians such as Tom Waits and Lou Reed: The Black Rider (1991), Alice (1992), Time Rocker (1996), and Poetry (2000).
Wilson’s highly stylized “theater of images” is characterized by a strong interest in the scenic arts of the Far East and by a particular analysis of theatrical temporality, forms of non-verbal communication, an architecturally conceived stage production, and a totally unique use of actors.
Intrigued by the possibilities offered by electronic technology, since 1978 he has produced innovative works for television (such as Video 50 in 1978 and Deafman Glance in 1981). Visually stylized in the same way, these video stories are rendered with a controlled, careful, visual elegance and sober yet abundant use of unexpected symbolic images, ritual gestures, and hyperreal atmospheres. The lights and movements, the time and the space take the place of language. Atmospheres at the same time sinister, frozen, imaginative, and almost surreal live together in situations where minimal actions and repeated gestures structure Wilson’s poetics
[F.B.]

List of Works

Video 50, 1978
video, color, sound, 51 min. 40 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Almost a sort of video notebook, Video 50 is a collection of approximately one hundred short episodes, somewhere between the dramatic and the humorous, originally produced for TV and with an average duration of 30 seconds. The intense theatricality, the affinity to symbolic images, and a certain surreal taste are mixed with combinations and repetitions of skillfully orchestrated visual motifs.

Deafman Glance, 1981
video, color, sound, 26 min. 53 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
A television adaptation of the eponymous work—often defined a “silent opera”—the video shows a highly and darkly stylized story of homicide, reinventing the values and customs of the time and space represented. A careful use of lighting and isolated sounds that replace words emphasize the period atmosphere. The recurrent actions, always silent, set in a house with an essential and spartan appearance, develop an atmosphere somewhere between dream and nightmare, repelling and inviting all at the same time.

Stations, 1982
video, color, sound, 56 min. 19 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In thirteen short segments, this video narrates the story of an eleven-year-old boy who in order to realize his fantasies approaches a magical world, one obviously extraneous to his family. Through the large kitchen window of his home he sees his inner fantasies come true, becoming elegant, pictorial compositions.

Artworks