August 25, 2004
Working Artist's Journal
San Francisco
Anna L. Conti
Gottfried Helnwein, "The Child", at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
Yesterday morning I went over to the Legion of Honor to see the Gottfried Helnwein show, "The Child". After all the build-up and warnings about the darkness of his work, I was surprised at the beauty and humor I found there. There are some superficial similarities between Helnwein and Gerhard Richter, but while Richter is the better painter technically, Helnwein (more of a conceptual artist) has more heart. In both cases, they're telling us the world sucks. But Helnwein also sees the good, the beautiful, and the possibilities for redemption.
This show is a mini-retrospective, with work spanning the last 35 years but focusing on one of his recurring themes: the child. There are colored pencil drawings, watercolors, mixed media paintings, and photographs. In some cases the preparatory photos for a painting are hung next to the painting. One watercolor of Hitler holding the hands of two little girls includes a bar of soap within the frame.
There are three madonna and child images, including his galley's gift to the museum, Helnwein’s 1998 painting Epiphany II , "Adoration of the Shepherds."
In this version, the shepherds are represented by Nazi youth. In "Adoration of the Magi", the wise men are SS officers. In "American Madonna", the child is pointing accusingly at a couple of cops. These large mixed media paintings appear to be photographic montages, printed on canvas, and then painted over. The Legion has placed the Helnwein show in galleries 1 and 2, which means the viewer walks past several 16th century madonna and child paintings to get there. If you didn't notice them on the way in, you will on the way out. This is Raffaellino dei Capponi's "Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels", 1502.
Helnwein is represented in San Francisco by Modernism Gallery, and they will be holding a one-man show of his new work from November 4 to December 2004.
Kenneth Baker's review of this show
Carolyne Zinko's review of this show
Link to Helnwein's demonic Mickeys and Donalds

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