SCREAMING MEEMIESGalerie Rudolfinum in Prague - Helnwein's images of pain and innocence won't let history sleep
The Prague Post (Czech Republic)
02. July 2008
|An alternative title to “Angels Sleeping” for this exhibition could be “All Hail to the Wounded Child,” as many of the works center on irreparably wounded children (both externally and internally) as the innocent victims of war. The children in Helnwien’s works may also represent the lost or destroyed child in all of us, not only as victims of war, but as victims of modern society, with all its mindless violence and perverse attraction to aggressive mobs and disturbances.
If there were a soundtrack to this exhibition, it would be a long, endless scream.
|The Disasters of War 3 2007
200 cm x 293 cm
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas)
In Memory of Francisco de Goya
|Gottfried Helnwein’s exhibition “Angels Sleeping” is a cross-section of this provocative, hyper-realistic painter/photographer’s work in five thematic sections that span the late 1980s to the present. Born in Vienna in 1948, Helnwein has only a few main themes in his work, or at least in this cross-section at the Rudolfinum: beautiful children, war or general violence and the suffering of children, and mobs of people and their leaders (especially in Germany and the United States, or, as he calls it, Amerika).|
|The first room has one wall lined with eight sublime paintings in a dark blue/black monochrome tint. Titled the “Fire” series (from 1999), these works are barely perceptible portraits of underground cultural icons: the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Rimbaud, Yukio Mishima, Samuel Beckett, Martin Luther King Jr, Che Guevara and Frank Zappa.|
|There are larger, abstract portraits, ethereal ghosts of things to come titled Fire Man and Ice Man (from 1999). This room also features a self-portrait by the artist: A man’s screaming head wrapped in a bandage, with forks blinding his eyes. Finally, there is a hyper-realistic painting of a young girl with red lipstick, alone and seemingly unprotected — except that she is wearing an SS uniform and looking up to someone with teary eyes. She is the poster girl and guiding light of this exhibition.|
|The next room bridges art and politics with a photolike portrait of one of Germany’s most important postwar artists in Nazi uniform, Before the Crash (Joseph Beuys) II (1988). This one is done in the same bluish-green tint as the “Fire” series, though with a clearer and lighter image. Beuys almost looks like Frank Sinatra in uniform.|
|One recent painting offers an obvious ode to Prague, relating to the German occupation of the Czech lands: Heydrich Contemplating Golem’s Daughter (2008), in which the Golem’s daughter is a golem-shaped plastic doll. Heydrich and his SS officers, looking at the doll with expressions of angst, are painted in the hyper-realistic style that Helnwein is best known for, almost like a documentary photograph.|
|Other monochrome paintings concentrate on leaders or masterminds of human atrocities and masses moved by their leaders. In Epiphany III (Presentation at the Temple) (1998), a group of men with horribly deformed faces surrounds a precious young girl in a white dress lying on a table. One of Helnwein’s best-known works, Epiphany I, Adoration of the Magi (1996), has Nazi officers surrounding a Madonna figure and babe (copying a work of Caravaggio from 1607).|
|In the main salon, there is a row of dark bluish-green tinted portraits from the “Sleep” series (2008). These show young girls (or possibly the same delicate girl) “sleeping” with eyes either closed or open. In the center is Head of a Child (2004), like most of the others a mixed-media work (oil and acrylic on canvas), though this one stands out for its extraordinary size and exquisite detail.|
|Across from these are Helnwein’s most recent works, from the series “The Disasters of War 2” (2007), showing more innocence (young girls in white dresses), either bandaged or caked in blood, or standing or lying serenely in mesmerizing scenes of isolation.|
|Another room is devoted to America. A wickedly aggressive Mickey Mouse titled Mouse (X) (2008) is joined by older works such as Oath (2000), which shows a group of 1950s-era all-American boys pledging an oath to a wounded Vietnamese child sitting on some steps. In The Resurrection of the Child (1997), an American policeman helps to prop up an injured girl in an anti-civil rights mob scene.|
|The last room contains Helnwein’s series of portraits of Marilyn Manson, the Goth-rock superstar. These are perhaps the most disturbing. In some, Manson is caked in white or black makeup, wearing Mickey Mouse ears or a white military uniform. In images where the singer is wearing a shiny black mask (revealing one real and one glass eye), Manson represents both mass destruction and the self-inflicted variation.|
|An alternative title to “Angels Sleeping” for this exhibition could be “All Hail to the Wounded Child,” as many of the works center on irreparably wounded children (both externally and internally) as the innocent victims of war. The children in Helnwien’s works may also represent the lost or destroyed child in all of us, not only as victims of war, but as victims of modern society, with all its mindless violence and perverse attraction to aggressive mobs and disturbances.|
|If there were a soundtrack to this exhibition, it would be a long, endless scream.|
scream·ing mee·miespl.n. Slang (Used with a sing. or pl. verb)
Nervous hysteria, an attack of nerves; the jitters.