From Steve McQueen to Bill Viola, video artists in the limelight

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Before he went mainstream: Steve McQueen in his 1992 short film, Bear

Before he went mainstream: Steve McQueen in his 1992 short film, Bear
Before he went mainstream: (L) Steve McQueen in his 1992 short film, Bear /  (R) Steve McQueen’s Five Easy Peaces

What you may not know about the winner of this year’s Best Director at the Oscars is that before he went Hollywood, Steve McQueen of “12 Years a Slave” fame earned international acclaim as a video artist. (The Turner Prize, which he won in 1999, is one of fine art’s equivalent honors.) One example of his Capital A artwork: the 1993 ten-minute film called Bear, depicting a wrestling match between two men—one of them McQueen. Among other works, McQueen (who bears absolutely zero resemblance to the late, iconic Hollywood he-man of the same name) also made a short in 1995 called Five Easy Pieces.

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(L) The newly-minted-Oscar winning Steve McQueen (R) The other Steve McQueen

Rather than be exhibited in movie theaters, McQueen’s un-Hollywood works are seen in museums and galleries around the world.

Now, one of the artists who helped invent the very form of video art (back when video Portapaks were created, which happens to be around the same time Steve McQueen was born) calls Long Beach home.

And this past week, MacArthur Genius grant awardee Bill Viola earned a very different honor than acclaim from Hollywood.

KCRW art critic Hunter Drohojowksa-Philp traveled to Paris for the opening of her Viola’s retrospective at the Grand Palais.

Here’s our conversation about the show you won’t be able to see unless you have plans to head to France.

And here are some clips, courtesy the museum: