helnwein archive

Art News, New York – November 1, 1992

One-man show at Modernism Gallery, San Francisco, 1992


by Kenneth Baker

Gottfried Helnwein follows the lead of his older Viennese contemporaries Arnulf Rainer and Hermann Nitsch in staging masquerades of suffering for the camera. He is the principal performer in his tableaux, some of which he translates from photograph into painting. Helnwein's first San Francisco show at the Modernism, came well past the moment when art seemed a fit vehicle for facile protestations of disgust at 20th-century history, especially those twisted with irony.

One-man show at Modernism Gallery, San Francisco, 1992

The psychic aftermath of the Third Reich in Austria and Europe is one of Helnwein's ostensible preoccupations. His work implies that historical amnesia continues the selective obviousness to others' sufferings that made the Nazi nightmare possible. He has staged "actions" that involve him sitting or lying prostrate in the Vienna streets, his entire head swathed in bandages, to test the indifference of passer-by.

In many self-portraits he appears similarly bandaged, with forklike or tonglike steel interments hocked over his eyelids or into his mouth. In some pictures he reacts to these appurtenances as if they were torture devices. In others he wears them with the air of a compliant patient.

Helnwein not only acknowledges that the self-display his work entails, he even admits to a strategic interest in celebrity. His show winkingly included huge close-up photo portraits of Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Keith Richards, Arno Breker (Hitler's favorite sculptor), and other notables.

In his painted-photo triptych called The Silent Glow of the Avante-Garde (1986), Helnwein abutted two images, which show him bandaged, bloodied, and becalmed, to a reproduction of an icon of German pictorial Romanticism, Casper David Friedrich's shipwreck scene Sea of Ice (ca. 1833-35).

Gottfried Helnwein, one-man show at Modernism Gallery, San Francisco
01.Nov.1992 Art News, New York Kenneth Baker