In order to exhibit Bill Viola's ''The Raft,'' the Butler Institute of American Art had to prove that it is see-worthy.
''Bill Viola is one of the great living artists,'' Butler Director Louis Zona said. ''Some believe him to be the greatest living artist.''
Viola's video installations have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim in New York; The Getty Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and major institutions around the world. He's the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Award and honorary degrees from nine colleges and art schools in the United States and England. He also created videos for Nine Inch Nails' 1990 world tour.
But the guidelines that museums must follow in order to exhibit his work are stringent.
''His studio has to approve our set up and to a large degree dictates the set up,'' Zona said. ''We had to build walls in the gallery. We had to create a control room. We had to bring in a special electrical line because of the intensity of the projector, so it's been a major effort.''
''The Raft'' is a 2004 work that has been described by Viola as a ''metaphor for today's world.'' The 10 minute, 33 second video depicts a group of people who experience an unexpected disaster that forces them to interact with each other.
''I saw it one time, and the feeling I got was I wanted to crawl into the screen and help those people,'' Zona said. ''It plays with the senses, tugs at emotions.''
It is so intense, the Butler plans to include a warning for parents that they might want to keep young children out of the gallery.
Because of his familiarity with the work, Zona said he jumped at the opportunity to exhibit it when it became available. The Butler exhibited Viola's ''The Threshold'' in 2000-01.
Zona said ''The Raft'' continues an artistic tradition that dates back nearly 200 years with Theodore Gericault's painting ''The Raft of the Medusa,'' which depicts French sailors who were on an unsafe vessel that capsized off the coast of Africa.
''Here is Bill Viola, more than a century later, recreating not 'The Raft of Medusa' but an imaginary raft where people are made to experience the dangers of the water,'' he said.
''Bill Viola: The Raft'' opens Sunday at the Butler Institute of American Art, 524 Wick Ave., Youngstown, and will remain on display through Dec. 30 in the Flad Gallery. Funding was provided, in part, by the David Bermant Foundation.