PAFA Acquires Ocean Without A Shore Video Installation by Bill Viola

Transformative work by the world’s most renowned video artist, on view in the US for the first time

PHILADELPHIA – The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is proud to announce the presentation of Ocean Without a Shore (2007), a major video installation by internationally acclaimed artist Bill Viola and a significant new addition to the museum’s collection. Exhibited in the United States for the first time, this profound and moving work of art can be experienced at PAFA from November 19 onward.

“Bill Viola is one of the most significant American artists working today, “says Harry Philbrick, Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Museum. ““His work Ocean Without a Shore brings a new depth to our permanent collection, and will allow us to more fully understand the progression of video and installation art as it relates to both the 20th century and today.”

Ocean Without a Shore is a complete sensory environment that combines a reverence for the traditions of figuration and realism in Western art with cutting edge technology, and was first shown in the 15th century Church of the Oratorio San Gallo, in Venice, Italy.

Inspired by the writings of Senegalese poet Birago Diop, Viola’s work takes its title from Andalusian Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, who wrote, “The Self is an ocean without a shore. Gazing upon it has no beginning or end, in this world and the next.”

Employing three large monitors, its imagery revolves around single figures that are emerging out of darkness. Approaching slowly from behind an invisible wall of rushing water, they appear hazy and ethereal in grainy gray tones, and as they come closer they touch the unseen barrier, making it visible as a powerful broken torrent. Stepping through this wall of water they transform into full color, brought to life before us and made present and real only, after a while, to return into the void. Involving 24 people, this process repeats seamlessly.

“Bill Viola’s innovative work focuses on human consciousness and experience,” says Julien Robson, PAFA’s Curator of Contemporary Art. “Ocean Without a Shore inspires us to reflect upon fundamental ideas about love, hope, sorrow, anxiety, being, death, and regeneration.”

Talking about Ocean Without a Shore, Bill Viola states: “Presented as a series of encounters at the intersection between life and death, the video sequence documents a succession of individuals slowly approaching out of darkness and moving into the light in order to pass into the physical world. Once incarnate, however, all beings realize that their presence is finite and so they must eventually turn away from material existence to return from where they came. The cycle repeats without end.”

Ocean Without a Shore is accompanied by a free Art-at-Lunch program “Then and Now: A History of Video Art,” on Wednesday, November 2, 12 noon to 1p.m. at PAFA.


Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is America's first school of fine arts and museum.  A recipient of the 2005 National Medal of Arts presented by the President of the United States, PAFA is a recognized leader in fine arts education. Nearly every major American artist has taught, studied, or exhibited at the Academy. The institution's world-class collection of American art continues to grow and provides what only a few other art institutions in the world offer: the rare combination of an outstanding museum and an extraordinary faculty known for its commitment to students and for the stature and quality of its artistic work.

Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Academy is located at 118-128 N. Broad Street in Philadelphia. Admission to the Permanent Collection is Adults $10, Seniors (60+) & Students with I.D. $8, Youth ages 13-18, $6.

Admission to Special Exhibitions (includes Permanent Collection) is Adults $15, Seniors (60+) & Students with I.D. $12, Youth Ages 13-18, $10. Admission is free for members and children under age of 12.