News Update
May 1, 2008
University of East Anglia, Norvich, UK
BA in Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History
Katy O'Donoghue
Gottfried Helnwein has been described as an artist that has committed himself to reminding the world of the Holocaust. Children are a recurring theme in his work; the strong/weak hierarchy makes them a ready metaphor for the victims of evil. Stripped one by one of their privileges, rights, sustenance, and finally their bodily integrity, the Nazi’s victims were subjected to what Christopher Bollas has called ‘a radical and catastrophic infantilization.’ I first became aware of Helnwein’s work in 2001 when he exhibited at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in Ireland. Large scale portraits of local children and photographs of his paintings conflating Nazi and religious imagery were hung on buildings around the city. I was particularly interested in the intense debate that arose around the installation of the pictures. City Council members objected to the hanging of work on City Hall, the public sent letters of complaint to local newspapers and called in to the local radio station in protest. During the exhibition two of the works were vandalised. Helnwein has maintained that it is important to see a reaction to his work. In February I travelled to Bonn, Germany and met with Helnwein to discuss how, through placing his work in the public realm, he attempts to keep Holocaust memory alive by instigating a dialogue. His subject matter is the repression of the greatest trauma of our century - National Socialism, people’s complicity in it, and its consequences.
Academic supervisor: Dr. Ferdinand De Jong
Ninth November Night
Installation, 1988, 400 x 6000 cm / 157 x 2362'', between Ludwig Museum and Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, each panel 370 x 250 cm, 146 x 98"
Selektion (Ninth November Night)
In 1988 Helnwein planned a large installation to commemorate the fifty year anniversary of Kristallnacht entitled ‘Selektion (Ninth November Night)’. The installation consisted of a four-meter-high, hundred-meter-long picture wall with seventeen pictures of local children, running along the railway in a line between the Ludwig museum and the main train station in Cologne. [79]
When I did this memorial in 1988, it was the fifty year anniversary of Kristallnacht and I thought Kristallnacht was really a crucial point in time because it was the moment when suddenly the Germans openly went against the Jews. Thousands of synagogues burnt down in one night, all the businesses and stores were destroyed, they were chased in the streets, the people were dead and that was open killing. There could be no doubt for anybody, until then people said it was not that bad. For me, that was the actual beginning of the Holocaust really…I shot all the faces of the children then I put [them next to] this magic word Selektion which means selection; because that was what they were doing. Selecting who should live and who should go to the gas chamber…I always thought that when you look for the essence of this horrible nightmare then I think its really the idea that a small group of people can decide and play God and decide who has the right to live and who does not.[80]
However, he had difficulties finding a sponsor, as his planned installation of haunted children’s faces was unlike the muted, conceptualist Holocaust memorials usually commissioned by City Councils in Germany. The city of Cologne refused Helnwein permission to exhibit on city property.[81] In the end, he managed to get permission to use a site privately owned by the railway and had to realize the project at his own expense. Despite initial difficulties Helnwein was pleased with the result.
Selection - Ninth of November Night
1988, Installation between Ludwig Museum and Cologne Cathedral, Cologne

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