新着情報
2014/11/25
SF weekly
San Francisco
Jonathan Curiel
Dark-Side-of-the-Mouse
Dark Side of the Mouse
Using Disney Cartoons to Explore the Line Between Innocence and Experience
Strangeness and beauty are hallmarks of Helnwein's art. Helnwein's work is for grown-up audiences that know people are capable of the most horrible and the most uplifting things imaginable. The art world has long fallen for Helnwein's work. In its permanent collection, the de Young Museum has a stunning 8-by-10-foot Helnwein painting called Epiphany II (Adoration of the Shepherds), which depicts a room full of Nazi guards smiling and guffawing over a dark-haired Aryan boy held by a young, bare-breasted woman. Adoration of the Shepherds offers a tense, discomforting scene — beautifully drawn, with darkness and lightness exaggerating sightlines and perspective
Gray Mouse 8
oil and acrylic on canvas, 2014, Courtesy of Modernism Inc., San Francisco
Gottfried Helnwein is Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite visual artist — so beloved that the former governor commissioned Helnwein to paint his official government portrait, which was unveiled two months ago in a Hollywood-style event at the California Capitol.  

Schwarzenegger's portrait is not what I love about Helnwein's art.What I love is on display at Modernism in downtown San Francisco, in the exhibit "Of Mice and Children," where we get Helnwein's Walt Disney figures with disingenuous expressions and we get eighth-grade girls who are blindfolded and holding automatic weapons. The paintings are inspired and disconcerting, intriguing and gut-wrenching, inviting and ominous. If Helnwein is celebrating anything in this artwork, it's the thin line between innocence and the loss of innocence. The canvases in Helnwein's exhibit hit you in the solar plexus, where the best art always does. Helnwein's large-scale works are so pointedly drawn that they seem like photographs, as if we're experiencing exactly what Helnwein saw himself.

Helnwein and Schwarzenegger are both native Austrians in their mid-60s, and like Schwarzenegger, Helnwein was raised in a defeated and economically deflated postwar society. Just like Schwarzenegger, Helnwein looked to the United States for a way out of Austria's hellish environment. Schwarzenegger built up his muscles and became one of America's biggest success stories. Helnwein, influenced as a boy by Donald Duck comics, became one of Europe's most acclaimed visual artists, but he sees America as a country whose legacy is decidedly muddied.

Gray Mouse 3, the Mickey Mouse painting at Modernism that depicts the character with a slimy smile? Like another Modernism work called Red Duck, it's partly a statement about the Disney Company's commercial stranglehold over its empire of movies, books, toys, and tie-ins. The gun-toting girl in Disasters of War 35? That's about the United States' and other Western countries' orchestration of wars and coups in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The paintings' back stories aren't announced by the wall text at Modernism. But Helnwein tells me that his new artworks are a subtle but deliberate commentary about the state of America and the state of the world.

"When I was young, America was the savior. America was only good. Everything perfect came from there — the music, the coolness, and then you see Elvis. I couldn't believe that a human being could be that beautiful. America was like heaven," Helnwein says in an online video interview from Ireland, where he lives. "But America is not that innocent anymore. We know about Abu Ghraib. We know about war crimes. We had Nixon and Bush. My pictures of Donald Duck changed. There's still something likable about them. But at the same time, they also have something scary and threatening about them — an air of monstrosity."

Epiphany II (Adoration of the Shepherds)
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 1998, 210 x 310 cm / 82 x 122'', de Young Museum, San Francisco
The art world has long fallen for Helnwein's work. In its permanent collection, the de Young Museum has a stunning 8-by-10-foot Helnwein painting called Epiphany II (Adoration of the Shepherds), which depicts a room full of Nazi guards smiling and guffawing over a dark-haired Aryan boy held by a young, bare-breasted woman. Like Gray Mouse 3 and Disasters of War 35, Epiphany II (Adoration of the Shepherds) offers a tense, discomforting scene — beautifully drawn, with darkness and lightness exaggerating sightlines and perspective. In 2000, SFMOMA featured a Helnwein mouse painting in its exhibit, "The Darker Side of Playland: Childhood Imagery from the Logan Collection." In 2004, the Legion of Honor held a Helnwein retrospective, followed in 2011 by a retrospective at Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum called "Gottfried Helnwein: Inferno of the Innocents."

As a photographer, Helnwein has collaborated with musician Marilyn Manson, and worked with Sean Penn on the video to Peter Gabriel's song, "The Barry Williams Show," which satirizes the violence and sex obsessions of talk-show television. Helnwein's work often comes with parental warnings, as happened with his Crocker Art Museum show. At last year's Albertina Museum retrospective in Vienna, which drew 250,000 visitors, many attendees were moved to tears by Helnwein's paintings of young girls bandaged and bloodied by war.

"Right after the war, it was a very traumatic time," says Helnwein. "It was all sad. All dark and heavy. As a kid, I never understood why. I never saw anyone smile or be happy. Everyone was miserable. Only now when I look back, knowing this generation was responsible for the Holocaust, I understand. Everything was buried under guilt and confusion.

"When I was 5 years old," he continues, "I saw my first Donald Duck comic book. We didn't have comic books in Austria. We didn't have television. There were no movies. My father brought me a bunch of the first German-language Mickey Mouse books. This was the only comic that, in Europe, existed at the time. Opening that was a culture shock. Donald Duck became a symbol for a completely different world. It was the first time that I realized there was something like color. I'd never experienced color before. And all the creatures were strange and beautiful to me."

This strangeness and beauty are now hallmarks of Helnwein's art. Helnwein's work is for grown-up audiences that know people are capable of the most horrible and the most uplifting things imaginable.





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