October 3, 2004
The Fresno Bee
Donald Munro
Art takes tiny adults for granted
"The Child," at the Legion of Honor (, is a less lyrical experience that confronts the way that the world so glibly uses children (in advertising, in war, in religion) to achieve less-than-innocent objectives. Some of Helnwein's paintings are terrifying. Instead of poster-child perfection, we're presented with children with various deformities: wayward eyelids, lumpy defects, hideous extra folds of flesh. Then there's Helnwein's penchant for contrasting childlike innocence with the horrors of the Third Reich. In one piece, a woman with a naked infant son, in the classic pose of the Madonna, basks in the soft-focus gaze of five men dressed in Nazi uniforms. Thought-provoking? Very. Disturbing? You bet. Children are our sacred cows. But they grow up. In that way, they are miniature adults. Sometimes art can push us in ways that shake the status quo.
BERKELEY -- The idea of children as innocents is hallowed in our culture. We dote on the image of children as pure, unsullied, untouched. We go to great lengths to extend childhood as long as we can.
Compare that to Victorian times, when some 10-year-olds were putting in 14-hour days in factories. A few centuries ago, children were basically thought of as miniature adults.
I thought about this a couple of times last weekend at Mary Zimmerman's lyrical play "The Secret in the Wings," playing through Oct. 17 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and again at the provocative art exhibit "The Child," featuring works by Gottfried Helnwein, at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco through Nov. 28. Both are about children but aren't for them. They delve into the murkier waters of childhood innocence -- of the way that children aren't simply blank little bundles of unsullied virtue but individuals blossoming into their own little complex selves.
Updated Sunday, October 3, 2004, 5:55 AM
Head of a Child

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