1. März 2005
ARTnews
Volume 104/Number 3
Kenneth Baker
REVIEW-Gottfried-Helnwein-San-Francisco-
REVIEW: Gottfried Helnwein, San Francisco
A highly satisfying survey of his work at the Legion of Honor museum titled "The Child" was dominated by images of children, as was a current exhibition of his more recent work at Modernism.
Gottfried Helnwein
Legion of Honor
Modernism
San Francisco
A collector once told Austrian-born painter Gottfried Helnwein that the child was the true subject of Helnwein’s work. The artist, who now lives in Los Angeles, decided that the agreed. A highly satisfying small survey of his work at the Legion of Honor museum titled “The Child” was dominated by images of children, as was a concurrent exhibition of his more recent work at Modernism.
Helnwein took inspiration for his 1970’s work from the grotesque performances of the Viennese Actionists. Early pieces in the museum show included images in which female children appeared blindfolded, bandaged,. Or with faces trussed in what look like sadistically customized dental or ophthalmologic equipment.
Several early watercolors depicted little girls, difficult to distinguish from dolls, disfigured by facial wounds (perhaps botched surgery). The large monochromatic 1998 oil on canvas Epiphany III (Presentation at the Temple) revealed something of Helnwein’s source material and his methods. It combines an archival documentary photo of a gathering of German World War I veterans with mutilated faces and Helnwein’s own shot of a little girl supine on the table.
After wincing for a while, viewers found themselves admiring Helnwein’s conceptual compositions. The artist knows that images of disfigured Great War veterans provide some of the impetus for early surrealism. He slams those references against an allusion to religious martyrdom, the episode of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple of Solomon, often employed in Christian art to symbolize the contrast between worldly and spiritual splendor, between sin and innocence.
In one respect Epiphany III aligns with very different moments in Helnwein’s work, such as the giant, oddly touching late ‘90s portraits of deformed stillborn infants he titled “Angels” and the recent digital pigment prints at Modernism of a young girl posing in nothing but a military officer’s jacket. Beyond their shock effect, these works assert the pornographic nature of images, or of our response to them, or both in the present situation of culture. Helnwein appears determined to make us uncomfortably aware o fhtis situation by any means necessary.
–Kenneth Baker
Modern Sleep 3
photograph, 2004
REVIEWS
San Francisco Gottfried Helnwein
New York Joan Snyder; “Alexander the Great”; Petah Coyne; Robert Ryman; Paul Pfeiffer; John Baldessari; Sarah Moon; Karin Kneffel; Altoon Sultan; Subhankar Banerjee; Edwin Schlossberg; Sam Cady; Gustavo López Armentia; “Romancing Nature”; Louis Renzoni; Margarita Cabrera Washington, D.C. Dan Flavin Los Angeles Peter Plagens West Palm Beach John Alexander and Martin Johnson Heade Chicago Herbert List Santa Fe “Icons” New Orleans Jack Ox London Turner Prize; William Turnbull Paris Donald Baechler Berlin Tim Eitel, David Schnell, and Matthias Weischer Toronto Owen Ford




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