GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN'S STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOMValera Katsuba
The St. Petersburg Times (exhibit review)
22. June 1997
|The Russian Museum's Marble Palace is showcasing over 100 of the artist's paintings, drawings, photos and sculptures for the next two and a half months, allowing St. Petersburgers to experience for themselves what the museum's curator, Alexander Barovsky, calls Helnwein's "unique combination of strong radicalism with Pop-Art."|
|The exhibition is scattered with often disturbing portraits - basically enlarged photographs done in oil and acrylic on canvas - that show modern idols, self-portraits, children and variations on the "Madonna With Child" theme. But the display begins with a startlingly soothing and romantic portrayal of the rebel himself, James Dean.
The first room's three stylized Dean portraits are, in retrospect, a softening-up device, created to relax the viewer and therefore heighten his or her shock when confronted with the more brutal and disturbing works that await within: Andy Warhol's face - resembling a portrait of Dorian Gray at the end of the Oscar Wilde novel; 48 famous women - Maria Callas, Sofia Kovalevskaya, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Rosa Luxemburg, Ella Fitzgerald - all with a strange feeling that there is a touch of death on the great women's lips.
Then there is the shock of a Helnwein self-portrait where the artist's mouth is opened by a surgical instrument.
"People must be free," Helnwein says. "Surgical instruments on sensual human skin show on a symbolic level how awful and painful the invasion of man's internal world could look. There is an illusion of freedom and democracy in the world. The world is not free. What I do is struggle for freedom with my art."
Perhaps the most powerful section in the exhibit is the "Kristallnacht" series - named for Crystal Night, the night of Nov. 9, 1938, when the Nazis orchestrated their first country-wide pogrom. Ten large portraits of children, their faces white masks of pain, are displayed in the Marble Palace's courtyard.
As resident Russian Museum art critic, Katerina Andreyeva says, "The artist looks at the dark sides of human beings."