News Update
12. Dezember 2007
Denver Art Museum
Ken Hamel
In Review: Gottfried Helnwein at the Denver Art Museum
Without doubt I was under the spell of Gottfried Helnwein, the final speaker of the excellent DAM Contemporaries artist lecture series (December 13th, 2007). His incantation began before I had even heard him speak, after seeing his twisted photorealistic infant Hitler-Christ child and mother Mary interrogated by the Nazi SS (1996 "Epiphany, Adoration of the Magi," part of the Radar show earlier this year at the DAM.) The artist himself noted that "hardly any other painting created so much emotional response" as Epiphany I (he created 2 other works in the series).
I descended deeper once the slideshow of his early work began, a sick cavalcade of partially bandaged and deformed faces, often wrapped with sharp forks and other metallic instruments. The sense of dread never seemed to let up as he took the audience on a painful trip through his "dialog with society" that includes the recurring theme of children confronting pain and delusion: "I wanted to view the horrors of the world through the eyes of a child."
Part of Helnwein's obsession with the macabre stems from his childhood in post WWII Austria where the population was in complete denial and unable to articulate the horrors they had seen and committed. Further, the only art Helnwein was exposed to as a child was that of the church's "allegory of death and pain" through images of Jesus being tortured and killed. (His formal art training was conducted at the Academy for Fine Art in Vienna, the same school Hitler was twice rejected from.)
Other challenging images include Hitler done up in Minstrel show black face, a series of portraits featuring Marilyn Manson, paintings based on the remnants of deformed 19th century fetuses, and "Epiphany III, Presentation at the Temple" which reworks an old portrait of disfigured French WWI veterans surrounding a young girl. Equally as disturbing was hearing Helnwein retell the stories of neo-Nazis confessing their ongoing loyalty to the Fatherland as they confronted his stylized portraits of young Adolph.
Helnwein is a gifted artists pushing the boundary of taste and convention: "my work was never meant to offer solutions. I am asking questions... that is the essence of art." I can't help but wonder if Helnwein is asking questions that we would rather not hear answered.
Written by Ken Hamel
Monday, 16 July 2007
The new Hamilton building opened back in October of '06 to much fanfare, and a special exhibit "Radar: Selections from the Collection of Vicki & Kent Logan" which after over 8 months, finally came to an end on July 15th. I thought the show was excellent and folks in Denver were fortunate to have such a comprehensive overview of recent trends from Europe and Asia.
German artist Neo Rauch's muted, unfinished pastiches circa 1945 create a vague sense of nostalgia for some innocent time gone by ("Spur" 1998 and "Light Rays" 1997) and luckily the DAM has one of his works on display as part of the Modern collection on the 3rd floor of the Hamilton building.
Contrasting Rauch's naivete was my favorite piece in the show, Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein's "Epiphany; Adoration of the Magi," a twisted take on the Magi (Wise Men of the East) offering gifts unto baby Jesus, however the Magi are played by Nazi officers and the baby Jesus by an infant Hitler. I found the piece hypnotic and chilling: Helnwein forces us to reconsider that much of the historic religious and military imagery we have been exposed to is just as manipulative as his modern re-appropriation. [Note, both Rauch (9/20) and Helnwein (12/13) will be in Denver speaking as part of the DAM's "Artists on Art" series.]

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