Skip to content Skip to footer
Current Exhibition

I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like: The Art of Bill Viola

Until September 15, 2019

A selection of genre-defying works by the renowned video artist.


Bill Viola. Ascension, 2000. Video/sound installation

Adults $25; seniors $23; students $5; members free

About the Exhibition

American artist Bill Viola (b. 1951) is celebrated for his genre-defying, mind-expanding work in new media. He is a visionary artist whose installations feature moving images that invite meditations on birth, death, and spiritual themes as well as the nature of human consciousness.

This special exhibition, organized for the Barnes by distinguished guest curator John G. Hanhardt, will bring together a selection of the artist’s major pieces from 1976 to 2009, including smaller screen-based works and the rarely seen large-scale installations He Weeps for You, Pneuma, and Ascension.

Exhibition Highlights


Ablutions, 2005. Color video diptych

Pneuma, 1994/2009. Video/sound installation

Exhibition Catalogue

The Art of Bill Viola


John G. Hanhardt offers an in-depth look at Bill Viola’s exceptional career and explores the underlying spirituality that has informed his approach to the moving image. With essays by Thomas A. Carlson and Kira Perov.

Hardcover, 176 pages including text and video stills.


This exhibition is sponsored by

Generous support for this exhibition comes from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and Aileen and Brian Roberts.

Critical support for all exhibitions comes from contributors to the Barnes Foundation Exhibition Fund:

Joan Carter and John Aglialoro • Julia and David Fleischner • Leigh and John Middleton • Jeanette and Joe Neubauer

John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, Christine and Michael Angelakis, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Lois and Julian Brodsky, N. Judith Broudy, Laura and Bill Buck, Gloria and John Drosdick, Eugene and Michelle Dubay, Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, Victoria McNeil Le Vine, Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, Hilarie and Mitchell Morgan, Kay and Michael Park, The Rittenhouse Hotel, Adele K. Schaeffer, Katie and Tony Schaeffer, Dr. and Mrs. Eugene E. Stark, Joan F. Thalheimer, van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Kirsten White, A. Morris Williams, Jr., Michele Plante and Robert N. Wilson, Anonymous.

The exhibition catalogue is made possible with generous support provided by the Lois and Julian Brodsky Publications Fund.

Public Programs

Film Screenings: I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like
Wednesdays, July 3–September 11, 1pm
Sundays, July 7, August 4, September 1, noon

Fridays, July 5, August 2, September 6, 6pm
Free with admission to First Friday! events

Bill Viola’s 1986 video I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like is a powerful study of spirituality, perception, and the cycles of life and death. In this 89-minute single-channel video, the artist creates an ecstatic catalogue of moving-image reveries on time, nature, and all living creatures. An ambitious artwork with a global point of view, it is a touchstone for the Viola exhibition.

Curators in Conversation: Bill Viola
Tuesday, July 16, 6 – 7pm, with exhibition access 5 – 6pm
$10; members and students free

Three Philadelphia cultural institutions will be presenting installations by Viola this summer. Join Nancy Ireson, deputy director for collections and exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator at the Barnes, and special guests Susan Talbott, executive director of the Fabric Workshop and Museum (Bill Viola: The Veiling), and Jodi Throckmorton, curator of contemporary art at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Bill Viola: Ocean Without a Shore), for a discussion about Viola’s exceptional work and career.

In-Focus Gallery Talks
Roberts Gallery; free with admission

Barnes Art Team member Ann Moss will provide an introduction to the art of Bill Viola, with a special focus on specific works. Talks begin outside the entrance to the exhibition gallery.

The Greeting
and Observance
Monday, July 22, 2 – 2:30pm

He Weeps for You and Ascension
Monday, August 26, 2 – 2:30pm

Monday, September 2, 2 – 2:30pm

Workshop: Bill Viola in Context
Saturday, August 17, 10am – 4pm
$150; members $135

This one-day workshop celebrates Viola’s life and work. The class will examine his innovative contributions to video, sound, and installation art, as well as the provocative themes that inspire his creations.

Around Town

Bill Viola: The Veiling
June 26–October 6, 2019
The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia

Bill Viola: Ocean Without a Shore

June 28–December 31, 2019
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Philadelphia