新着情報
2004/08/04
Oakland Post
Art
Janos Gereben
Legion's 'The Child' - for Adults Only
An artist with conscience, a fearless man with a penchant for profoundly bizarre and complex, meaningful images, Gottfried Helnwein is making a grand re-entry to San Francisco. His work was exhibited here four years ago when his freaky mixed-media portrait of Mickey Mouse - "Mouse I" - was part of the SF Museum of Modern Art's "The Darker Side of Playland - Childhood Imagery." The paintings are extraordinary, grotesque, powerful, "difficult" and challenging, according to Parker and the curator of the Legion exhibit, Robert Flynn Johnson. They are all that, and more. A simple description of the works, without context, would only indicate a freak show: a photo-like painting of Hitler with two very Aryan-looking children, an actual bar of soap encased under them; a group of uniformed Nazis gazing adoringly on a contemporary Mother and Child (Helnwein explaining that the people in the photograph that was the basis for the painting were actually surrounding Hitler); images of normal children mixed with misshapen, ill, tortured youngsters. "Why would people cause so much pain to others?" Helnwein asks, and he shows the pain, unflinchingly, but not to titillate the demented or to horrify the ignorant. "The Child" - located in a part of the Legion next to a permanent exhibit of Renaissance Mother and Child images by Pontormo, Tintoretto, Raphael, and others - has far more to offer than politics, morality, controversy and horror. Although there is no doubt that primarily Helnwein is "the artist as provocateur," he is also an artist in the sense of creating unique and lasting images.
The past weekend, the Viennese artist (who has worked in Los Angeles and Ireland for the past two decades) got a whole show to himself at the Legion of Honor. It's called "The Child," but Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco director Harry Parker III warns parents not to take their children to the exhibit without having some advance knowledge of it.
Chances are a quick peek would go a long way towards protecting children from Helnwein's images. In fact, supposedly hard-boiled journalists working at Vienna's Die Presse protested against an exhibit of some of these paintings in their building because "they give me nightmares," one of the writers said.
The paintings are extraordinary, grotesque, powerful, "difficult" and challenging, according to Parker and the curator of the Legion exhibit, Robert Flynn Johnson.
They are all that, and more. A simple description of the works, without context, would only indicate a freak show: a photo-like painting of Hitler with two very Aryan-looking children, an actual bar of soap encased under them; a group of uniformed Nazis gazing adoringly on a contemporary Mother and Child (Helnwein explaining that the people in the photograph that was the basis for the painting were actually surrounding Hitler); images of normal children mixed with misshapen, ill, tortured youngsters.
"Why would people cause so much pain to others?" Helnwein asks, and he shows the pain, unflinchingly, but not to titillate the demented or to horrify the ignorant.
Born in 1948, Helnwein spent his childhood "in a world of devastation and depression," in a country that had embraced the Third Reich and the Final Solution, in a city that remained deeply but silently anti-Semitic. A Christian by birth - if not by belief - young Helnwein asked questions that were not answered, wanted to find out what the collective silence was about. Reaction to his first works portraying Nazis was electric, "but mostly the wrong way, taxi drivers telling me proudly about their SS connections," the artist recalls today.
And then came one of the most famous instances of art-as-action in modern times. In 1979, when a Dr. Heinrich Gross was named Austria's director of state psychiatry, Helnwein exhibited a water-color showing a young girl asleep at the table, her head on the plate, a spoon next to her hand. Entitled "Life Not Worth Living," the painting included a text block restating newspaper reports that Gross participated in a Nazi euthanasia program to kill children considered "not worth living."
Gross admitted his participation and claimed to have acted humanely by using poison instead of lethal injection, so Helnwein's painting included this note to Gross: "... in this Year of the Child, I want to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of the children who were taken to heaven under your care. I want to thank you that they were not injected to death,' as you have called it, but simply died by having poison mixed into their meals. With German Greeting, Yours, Gottfried Helnwein." Gross resigned, and Helnwein, the account goes, "became even more aware how art can have a bearing on life."
"The Child" - located in a part of the Legion next to a permanent exhibit of Renaissance Mother and Child images by Pontormo, Tintoretto, Raphael, and others - has far more to offer than politics, morality, controversy and horror. Although there is no doubt that primarily Helnwein is "the artist as provocateur," he is also an artist in the sense of creating unique and lasting images. Children should stay home, adults should attend the Legion show, running through Nov. 28.




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