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‘Visceral and powerful’: the everlasting appeal of giant art panoramas



“So much of the panorama experience is visceral and powerful, being transported in front of these massive works of art,” enthused James Fishburne, co-curator of Forest Lawn’s new exhibition Grand Views: The Immersive World of Panoramas. Fishburne spoke with me about this little-known but spectacular art form, taking me behind the scenes of the exhibition he co-curated in conjunction with the Velaslavasay Panorama.

Grand Views offers audiences a rare chance to immerse themselves in the fascinating world of panoramas. The show centers around Forest Lawn’s Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection – which has displayed two enormous panoramas for decades – and it also offers other enormous works, like the Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes, made by artist Sara Velas in 2000. In addition, the show provides a rich assortment of broadsides, rare objects and ephemera from the 19th-century world of panoramas that help audiences truly get inside the creation and exhibition of these massive pieces.

Curating the show, Fishburne worked alongside panorama artist Sara Velas and writer Ruby Carlson, both of whom co-curate the Velaslavasay Panorama – a museum dedicated to panoramas located in nearby Los Angeles. According to Velas, her love of panoramas goes back to her early childhood, and getting to show her work in this exhibit alongside ephemera from panorama history is something of a full-circle moment. “I knew I wanted to make things since I was a child, and being in St Louis I learned about the 19th century panorama tradition. I went on this huge pilgrimage to Europe when I graduated college to try and visit as many of the panoramas as I could from this era. Remarkably, a lot of the artifacts and things we’re displaying in this exhibit are tied to things that I saw in that self-assigned pilgrimage.”

Federated Press, Montreal, Cyclorama Building, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, c. 1920

Carlson, who has served as secretary-general of the International Panorama Council and who writes on numerous subjects, including panoramas, realized she wanted to dedicate herself to panoramas during a chance visit to the Velaslavasay Panorama, where she had a transformative encounter with the massive Effulgence of the North. “Me and my friends were the only people there at the time, and we spent a good hour in the panorama itself,” she told me. “It was just an incredible atmosphere, unlike anything I’d ever been to before and spending that time with a couple of my favorite people just made it very magical. I spent a lot of time at the Velaslavasay Panorama that day, and as we were leaving, I thought to myself, ‘I want to be here more.’”

With Grand Views: The Immersive World of Panoramas, Fishburne, Velas and Carlson hope to help others understand just how wonderful this massive artform is, while communicating the long and rich history behind it. Due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, the curators had more time than expected to piece the exhibition together, letting them trace the rich web of connections between panoramas and much of Los Angeles history. “The fun part was the early stage, thinking about the connections we want to make,” said Fishburne. “There’s been so many incredible threads that we’ve been able to combine, since we got to let the whole thing marinate for an extra year-and-a-half during the pandemic. I think it really helped to enrich it.”

Ryan Schude, Façade of the Union Theatre (home of the Velaslavasay Panorama 2004-present), 2021

One of those threads is the history of Los Angeles film-making, which is woven into the history of panoramas in California. Grand Views exhibits a Hollywood backdrop, as well as numerous cinematic artifacts, letting audiences see how these massive artworks have contributed to the development and evolution of film. The exhibition also offers a sketch for a panorama made by Disney imagineer Herbert Ryman, who is celebrated as being the first artist to ever visualize Walt Disney’s aspiration to create a theme park. “It’s really fascinating that between Disney, Hollywood, Forest Lawn, etc there’s this sort of cross-pollination among these worlds. And the final product is different for each of them, but they’re all sort of these very powerful, immersive, moving experiences. For Grand Views, we took slices of panorama history that are also interwoven with LA history.”

A major piece shown in Grand Views is the monumental crucifixion panorama painted by Polish artist Jan Styka – at 195ft by 45ft, it is one of the largest paintings ever created. Simply titled Crucifixion, the work’s immense size and impressive detail give it a dramatic, cinematic air, heightened by the immense hall that Forest Lawn created to house it and the dramatic show it uses to present the work to viewers.

Jan Styka, the Crucifixion (detail of central scene), 1896

According to Fishburne, “Crucifixion is one of the only four surviving crucifixion panoramas in the world.” He went on to detail how, in contrast to the other three, which are exhibited in a circular format, Forest Lawn’s hall draws from LA inspiration. “You step into this building, which uses ecclesiastical architecture, but then it also uses very Los Angeles–inspired architecture. The panorama’s theater space is essentially a movie palace. It’s a panorama presented in the way of a cinematic format.”

Grand Views offers substantial context on the making of Crucifixion, as well as offering windows into the other three major crucifixion panoramas, all currently in Europe. “Through Sarah and Ruby’s contacts with the International Panorama Council, we were able to get artifacts and ephemera from the three others,” said Fishburne. “You get a really rich sense of the history surrounding these works. It’s the behind the scenes look at how these incredible artworks were created and presented.”

In a world where digital experiences are more and more becoming the norm, and where artistic innovations of the 19th century may seem as antiquated as the Pony Express in a world of text messaging, Grand Views offers viewers the chance to challenge their expectations and experience something both old and new. “What I really like about panoramas is that it frames the experience of going to see a painting more theatrically,” said Velas. “I think in particular it’s feeling very special right now because we’re spending so much time in this digital space.”

  • Grand Views: The Immersive World of Panoramas is on show at Forest Lawn, California, until 10 September



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Home + Away artwork opens in Vancouver’s Hastings Park



A new art installation now towers over Vancouver’s Hastings Park fields in celebration of the city’s history of spectators and sports.

Home + Away is a sculpture by Seattle artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio, which opened Monday in the southeast end of the historic park.

It’s a 17-metre-tall structure that resembles a narrow set of bleachers — similar to the stands of the Empire Stadium, which stood on the site of the park from 1954 to 1993 and hosted The Beatles, among many others. It recalls a covered ski jump that stood there in the 1950s and the nearby wooden rollercoaster at the PNE.

The city says the public is invited to walk the stairs and sit on the benches.

“In addition to being visually striking, this artwork is intended to be ascended, sat on and experienced. It offers exciting experiences of height and views and provides 16 rows of seating for up to 49 people, making for a unique spectator experience when watching events at Empire Fields,” the city said in a release Monday.

The idea for the park to include public art was outlined in the Hastings Park “Master Plan,” first adopted by the city in 2010. The city says Han and Mihalyo first presented their design in 2015.

“It’s wonderful to see this piece realized within the context of such a well-used public space,” said Han.

Home + Away was inspired directly by the site history of spectatorship, and we hope it will connect Hastings Park users to that history and the majestic views of the environment for many decades to come,” added Mihalyo.

The artwork features a large light-up sign, in the style of a sports scoreboard, that reads “HOME” and “AWAY.”



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Bill Viola, Video Artist Who Established the Medium as an Integral Part of Contemporary Art, Dies at 73



Bill Viola, whose decades-long engagement with video proved vital in establishing the medium as an integral part of contemporary art, died on July 12 at his home in Long Beach, California. He was at 73 years old. The cause was complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. The news of his passing was confirmed by James Cohan Gallery.

Viola’s works are centered around the idea of human consciousness and such fundamental experiences as birth, death, and spirituality. He delved into mystical traditions from Zen Buddhism to Islamic Sufism, as well as Western devotional art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in his videos, which often juxtaposed themes of life and death, light and dark, noise and silence. These explorations were achieved by submerging viewers in both image and sound with cutting-edge technologies for their time.

“I first used the camera and lens as a surrogate eye, to bring things closer, or to magnify them, to experiment with perception, to extend vision and make lengthy observations of simple objects,” Viola said in a 2015 interview. “Once you do that, their essence becomes visible. So I suppose I was always interested in the inner life of the world around me.”

Beginning in the 1970s, Viola created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast—all of which expanded the scope of the medium and established Viola as one of its most notable practitioner.

Video still of a man diving into water that has been reversed. The image is mostly black and teal.

In 2003 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Tate, London; and the Centre Pompidou in Paris jointly acquired Bill Viola’s 2001 three-channel video installation Five Angels for the Millennium.

Photo Kira Perov/©Bill Viola Studio

Bill Viola was born in 1951. He grew up in Queens and Westbury, New York, and attended P.S. 20 in Flushing, before receiving his BFA in experimental studios from Syracuse University in 1973. There, he studied with visual art with the likes of Jack Nelson and electronic music with Franklin Morris.

Following his graduation, between 1973 to 1980, Viola studied and performed with composer David Tudor in the music group Rainforest, which later became known as Composers Inside Electronics. He also worked as technical director at the pioneering video studio Art/tapes/22 in Florence, Italy from 1974 to 1976. During that time he encountered the work of other seminal video artists like Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci.

Viola was subsequently an artist-in-residence at New York’s WNET Thirteen Television Laboratory between 1976 to 1983, wherein he created a series of works that premiered on television. He traveled to the Solomon Islands, Java, and Indonesia to record traditional performing arts between 1976 and 1977. Later that year, Viola was invited to show work at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, by cultural arts director Kira Perov, with whom he married and began a lifelong collaboration.

He was appointed an instructor in advanced video at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California in 1983. He was the Getty Research Institute scholar-in-residence in Los Angeles in 1998 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.

In 1985, Viola received with a Guggenheim Fellowship for fine arts, and later that decade, in 1989, he was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. His work was also featured in some of the world’s most notable exhibitions, including Documenta VI in 1977, Documenta XI in 1992, the 1987 and 1993 editions of the Whitney Biennial, and the 2001 Venice Biennale.

In 1995, he represented the United States at the 46th edition of the Venice Biennale. For the pavilion, Viola produced the series of works “Buried Secrets,” including one of his most known works The Greeting, which offers a contemporary interpretation of Pontormo’s oil painting The Visitation (ca.1528–30). The Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and New York’s Guggenheim Museum commissioned the digital fresco cycle in high-definition video, titled Going Forth By Day, in 2002.

Viola’s work was the subject of a major 25-year survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997, which subsequently toured internationally. His work has been the subject of major museum retrospectives in the years since, including at the Grand Palais in Paris (in 2014), the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2017), the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain (2017), and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (2019), as well as an exhibition pairing his work with that of Michelangelo at the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2019.

Viola is survived by his wife Kira Perov, who has been the executive director of his studio since 1978, and their two children.

“One thing that’s very exciting about video that has turned me on since I first saw this glowing image way back in 1970 is that it can be so much,” Viola said in a 1995 with Charlie Rose on the occasion of this US Pavilion at the Biennale. “Furthermore, what’s really exciting is I don’t think it’s been since really the Renaissance where artists have been able to use a medium that one could say is the dominant communication form in society.”


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Couple’s winning art projects adorn overpass



Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot are partners: in life, love, and art. Thanks to their creative pursuits, now they are also joined in the recognition of their work along the Lakeshore overpass.

The City of North Bay, in collaboration with the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC), recently held an event to acknowledge the successful applicants for the Lakeshore Drive overpass banner project. This initiative features 14 artworks created by local artists, highlighting the ongoing commitment to bringing public art to the community and celebrating local talent. The banners were installed early last week.

On behalf of PAAC, Katie Bevan noted that 71 submissions were received for the banner art project. “Selecting just 14 artworks from such outstanding submissions was no small feat. It truly highlights the incredible creativity within our community — and it’s only growing.”

Bevan acknowledged all who submitted their work and congratulated the 14 winners:

  • Caitlin Daniel
  • Corbin Elliot
  • Adam Fielder
  • Ian Gauthier
  • Ruby Grant
  • Annabelle Harvey
  • Penny Heather
  • Robert Johannsen
  • Robyn Jones
  • Gerry McComb
  • Victoria Primeau
  • Tessa Shank
  • Rana Thomas
  • Claudia Torres

“This is the first time I’ve participated in something city-wide, and I’ve been really interested in getting more involved in the art community,” said Harvey, a teacher by vocation when not helping to beautify North Bay. “I’ve worked a lot with the WKP Kennedy Gallery and I’ve been putting in submissions for some of their group shows. So, this is a cool opportunity to try something new. This is the first time I have done digital work. Usually, I like painting and collage. So I was interested just to try something new.”

In September 2023, public art gained more prominence in North Bay as 12 pieces by eight local artists selected by the Public Art Advisory Committee were placed on aluminum panels mounted onto the public buildings in both Champlain and Sunset parks.

Harvey’s partner Elliot is an emerging artist and a Fine Arts graduate from Nipissing University who says his passion for bringing his vision to life has only grown, thanks, in part, to these public art initiatives.

“There is so much opportunity to have a lot of different public art in different spaces,” he says. “So, when I saw that there was a variety of different artists and voices being accepted, of course, I wanted to have my vision out there in the city, to make my mark and be a part of that kind of trajectory of building the art scene within the city.”

The couple share a studio space, often working on separate projects at the same time while collaborating with encouragement and ideas.

“We are working on different mediums, a lot of the time,” Elliot said. “We have our own corners set up in the studio and I’ll usually be on my easel and Annabelle will be doing something…”

Harvey picked up his thought, “I’m usually at my desk doing pottery, jewellery, collage — I do a lot of different things.”

Couple Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot each earned a spot among the 14 winning banner art projects. Stu Campaigne/BayToday

For Harvey, working so closely together is her “favourite part, especially watching his creative process.”

Elliot added, “I think I’m more non-verbal as I’m creating. I often hear you saying, ‘Oh, I think I like this.'”

Both have active Instagram pages featuring their artwork, Harvey’s can be found here, and Elliot’s here.

Elliot has a show at the WKP Kennedy Gallery, entitled “Upon a Star,” opening Sept. 13. “I’ll have my own solo exhibition. I typically work in painting. I have a big body of work with paintings,” he said.

The City of North Bay and PAAC encourage everyone to take a moment to appreciate these works of art when passing by the overpass.

Harvey and Elliot are thrilled about the banner art project.

“It’s like seeing your vision come to life. We’ve had lots of friends, even before we saw them today say excitedly, ‘I saw your work on the overpass,’ it’s just a proud moment to have so many eyes on our work.”



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