June 1, 1988
Peter Gorsen
"Der Untermensch"
Edition Braus, Heidelberg
THE DIVIDED SELF
Gottfried Helnwein in his self-portraits
Je est un autre, RIMBAUD. Helnwein compared the "quietly theatrical" ecstatic attitude of his self-portrait with the heroic pose of the figure of the suffering figure of Sebastian and generalizes both to the stigma of the artist in the 20th century, making him a kind of saviour figure. In addition, its poetic title sets the viewer onto the right track. The visual montage of the modern artist as Man of Sorrows with Friedrich's landscape painting projects the dashed hopes of the romantic rebellion into the present, to the protest thinking of modernity, which has become introverted and masochistic, and its crossing of aesthetic boundaries. Is romanticism making a comeback? No; actually, it had never left modernity. But its rebellion is confining and introverting itself in the "body metaphysics" of contemporary artists to its own flesh and blood.
God of Sub-Humans
photograph, oil and acrylic on canvas, 1986, 210 x 594 cm / 82 x 233''
Je est un autre, RIMBAUD
Till now, Gottfried Helnwein has largely skirted the insider art market with its traditional bias for originals and exclusive objects so as to reach the consumer in the directest and fasted way via industrial poster and cover-picture production. After his first sensational cover on "Suicide in Austria" for the Viennese political and cultural magazine PROFIL (1973), Helnwein acquired the undeservedly prejudiced image of being a journalistic photo designer who supplies large-circulation pictorials, metropolitan billboards, and the befuddling poster industry of youth culture with psychoshocks. For instance, his affectionately hagiographic paintings of idols such as Mick Jagger, Peter Alexander, Muhammad Ali, Niki Lauder, Joseph Beuys, and just recently of Marlene Dietrich are criticized as having little to do with art and much with public relations; they are regarded merely as a stylish tribute to hedonistic consumer culture and its mass-media contents.
Looking back today, Helnwein doesn't see himself as a painter, photographer, illustration designer, or a style artist from some other artistic category, but rather as being in the vicinity of "conceptual art", which tries to eliminate the subjective limitations of the separate visual media, techniques, styles and strives for an objectivation of artistic formulation via a fusion of all visual communication forms. Like Cindy Sherman, he works out a strategy of projective masks and mirror images revealing to the art viewer his own thinking and wishes. The subjectless staging of the viewer's reality become more important than the subjective likeness or reality by the artist. Here, it will be shown how this reorientation from the self-portrayal of the artist to the self-search of the viewer is done, paradoxically, with Helnwein's "self-portraits".
Helnwein's experimental versatility can scarcely be pigeonholed. His art contains works reminiscent of the Little Masters [of the German 16th Century] as well as bizarre-fantastic drawings in the tradition of Redon and Kubin. Also, his active commitment to "anti-psychiatry", anti-authoritarian education, disarmament, and more ecological consciousness is usually forgotten. Helnwein takes motifs and forms popular culture and uses them partly as caricatures and partly as grotesque alienation. His annoying hypernaturalism is unsettling and borders on ironic exaggeration. The Brecht-Benjamin maxim, "Don't take up the good old [elements], but the bad new," was already a determining factor of his beginning in the early seventies. The academically trained painter from Rudolf Hausner's Viennese School confesses today to have learned more from rock music and Walt Disney than from Mozart and Leonardo da Vinci.
One day, he decided on success and started looking for a form of communication which is popular, easily understood, entertaining, and which justifies its existence in the masses' interest in it. Thus, crossing boundaries to work with such things as photography, comic strips, science fiction, juvenile media, and painting, as well, was an obvious practical consequence. At first, Helnwein took up the mental clichés and colloquial speech of everyday life as a new, fresh subject matter, as had pop art and American photorealism, but then he found his way to less static, open picture forms the content of which was scarcely defined and didn't take on a sharply contoured meaning until the viewer's imagination was projected onto it. Behind the reception-aesthetic opening and reduction of the work of art to a relative role is the old idea of the plebiscitary participation of the public, which, to be sure, is currently aimed, in the light of post-modernistic ideology, at a more-or-less non-committal, playful participation by the person interested in art.
Helnwein's newest works shows him as an expert in picking up contemporary catastrophe perspectives and crisis moods. As emotional elements it contains almost all manifestations of violence such as war, torture, rape, sexual obscenity, fascism, in molded-over historical and in up-to-date form. Most recently, he has distributed them on monumental surfaces of two, three, and more parts, so that one seems to be witnessing the staging of a limitless run of pictures. Helnwein's hope of having his art approach the life process by scenically expanding and dramatizing the traditional panel picture can be traced back to his early actionist forms.
Actionistic self-portrayals in the manner of a happening featuring his injured and bandaged body go back to his student days at the HIGHER GRAPHIC INSTRUCTION AND EXPERIMANTAL INSTITUTION (1965-1969) and the ACADEMY OF VISUAL ARTS in Vienna (1969-1973). They may be regarded as biographical, artistic, or less conscious accompanying circumstances to his other graphic productions. From the beginning, photographic actions were used as stimulation and models for his painting. Appearances and manifestations reminiscent of happenings in his typical pose as a cripple all bandaged up in a wheelchair are the content of the vernissages of his exhibits. In 1972, Helnwein realized that an action as staged reality is an independent form of expression.
This was the time of the student revolt at the Vienna Academy, in which he was prominently involved, of the protest action against violence and terror in the "Galerie D." during an exhibit of paintings of deformed children, the "Blood-for-Helnwein" event, a blood donation drive together with the Red Cross, and finally, a five-hour "silent action", during which he is shown standing, kneeling, and squatting among the passers-by on the street. In this silent protest against the indifference and insensibility of people in everyday life, he used a partly disgusting, partly pitiful masquerade of bandages and surgical tongs deforming his head. Since then, they have become part of the aesthetic "uniform" of his self-portrayals and self-portraits.
At the same time that he painted pictures of injured and abused children, from 1969, around 1971/72 the bandaged child became the most important figure next to the artist himself and the martyr allied with him in his actions. The child is the embodiment of the innocent, defenceless, sacrificed individual at the mercy of brute force. As an innocent "child of light", whose head and hand injuries emit light rays like self-radiating stigmata, he is heroized into a sufferer and saviour figure, just as the artist is. In a photography sequence of 1972, this light mysticism is expressly transferred to the self-portrait of the artist as a martyr. The scars and bandages of the face of the grimacing artist in the photographs are transformed by a grattage technique into radiant white trajectories.
As shown also by his many actions with children in public, the group portrait with children has become a permanent subject for Helnwein. His commitment to the rights of children has nothing to do with "infantomania", as manifested in a socially isolated "children's culture", in a commercialized "children's media", in the child as a pedagogical subject, and in the ideological transfiguration of one's own childhood.
Helnwein must also be set apart from Viennese Actionism as he does not reduce the child's body to mere aesthetic material (as in the "material actions" of Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, and Otto Muehl), but instead endows it with a symbolic function in representing defenceless, sacrificed man. The sexualistic concept of the child in (Freud-influenced) "Viennese Actionism" is countered by the moralist and utopian Helnwein with the child as a sexless salvation figure.
The tendency to a patriarchal transfiguration and idealization of an innocent, sacrificing child-man embracing children and artists as the sole creative interest group and excluding the female, which is assigned to the sphere of the other aesthetic objects, is the main feature distinguishing Helnwein's world of pictures from the pan-sexualism and libido anarchy of the Vienna action group of old. The idyllic group portrait of the artist as Man of Sorrows with maltreated children also has a biographical, an autobiographical aspect, since his own children Cyril, Mercedes, and Ali have advanced to the role of models for his live and photo actions.
In the seventies, happenings and actions were commonplace intermedia events. For the Rudolf Hausner pupil Helnwein they were an additional means of expression apart from painting and photography and not the only avant-garde form possible, as "Viennese Actionsim" had claimed. Helnwein didn't know anything about this socially and culturally isolated group until 1975, when the gallery owner Ursula Krinzinger told him about it; she also pointed out similarities in his self-portrayals with the "bandage actions" of Rudolf Schwarzkogler, who had committed suicide in 1969. Helnwein knows that like the "Viennese Actionists" he stands in the tradition of the body-language expression of Gerstl, Schiele, and Kokoschka.
But whereas the aesthetic crossing of boundaries of the already historic Viennese action artists were meant as a dadaistic-destructive overthrow of panel painting and, in the footsteps of informal and action painting, as esoteric art centred on its creative process, Helnwein, in adhering to a mass-media-influenced, generally understandable, realistic depiction method, is after an approximation of art and everyday life, a socialization and democratization of the art experience in the technologically advanced reproduction media. This entertaining post-aura art is aimed at the everyday person. He is to be rattled in his living and thinking habits, sensitized and encouraged to change from consumerism to activity affecting the social process. Like painting, happenings and actions are too limited, to the point of being anachronistic, to help post-aura art attain simultaneous collective reception.
The actionistic form of depiction thus remains limited to a stimulating and accompanying role in Helnwein's idea of non-verbal communication. All the same, it is the most important source of picture material. The photographic actions and self-portrayals, the psychodramatic role-playing and photo actions of a reality copied in the studio and staged with models also contribute as raw material and preliminary form of each picture composition to its scenic temporalization. This leads in the new multisectional "Retabel" pictures and cyclical photograph sequences such as WAR AND PEACE, FLOWER-AND-LIGHT CHILD, ROSE OF SHAME AND THE SONG OF DEPUTIES, to the limitless run of pictures with a broad thematic scope reminiscent of historical and genre painting.
II.
The martyr-like self-portrayal of the artist with his head bandaged and mouth distorted is a frequently varied main motif in Helnwein's picture production. In the diptych IT'S ONLY ROCK ('N' ROLL, BUT WE LIKE IT) (referring to Keith Richard), the expressive photograph of the Man of Sorrows in the tradition of Schiele's body-language self-portraits is complemented by a blood-stained, almost "monochrome" or "tachist" canvas. It is reminiscent of informal pictures by Nitsch and Rainer. But the last thing Helnwein is after is quotations from art history, an affiliation with "Viennese Actionism", or the monochromatic painting of Yves Klein. He works predominantly with the trivial myths, symbols, signets, and idols of everyday life; he has (much like Renzo Vespignani) a sharp eye for the nostalgic devotional objects and pictures of fascism.
The necrophile demonism of Nazi nostalgia, the military look and uniform fetishism of youth culture with its sad-masochist impulses, its weakness for "outta-sight" weapon aesthetics and war-like masquerading are just as much subject matter as are the heroic-pathetic gesture and the mime of the great emotions. The action photographs (staged in the studio) devoted to the heroic image of the "dead soldier" are so balanced emotionally that in this monumentophilia, piety and lack of respect, fascination and hate balance out. The model and the actor of this photo action is the artist himself. He would like to be an identification figure and claims a universal-humanitarian deputy function for himself.
The CUP OF PASSION, a triptych in acrylic paint and photography of 1986, combines the bull-like commander's head of Mussolini with a fantastic fairy-tale scene in which a frail, child-like creature is confronted with an extraterrestrial monster. The irreal and real horror pictures on the side wings are hinged together by the still life of a tipped-over cup with its contents spilled on the floor. The meaning of this composition remains vague, but the mood it evokes should be dissonant and full of conflict. The viewer, who as a rule is set in his prejudices, is to be disoriented, irritated, and rattled by ambiguities. Helnwein thinks the picture would lose its "tremendous power" and suggestive effect by combining it with a message, explanation, and social criticism. So he leaves it at toying with the viewer's shock; for him, it is enough to have evoked the fragmentized sensation of fascination and pain, seduction and falsification.
The non-committal and irresponsible aspect of this toying is obvious. On the other hand, works of art are not morally bound, they are neither sermons nor philosophical commentaries. Even so, the artist must be asked if today we again need visual instruction on the fact that fascism no doubt was and is also an aesthetic seduction, that it never came on the scene as bare violence, but in romantic make-up, very attractive and stylish? The victims and perpetrators of fascism appear at the same level by virtue of an artistic mannerism smoothing all ideological differences over in a splendidly staged horror fetishism. The total aesthetic impression of Helnwein's paraphrases of fascism is that of a memento mori, and unsettling iconography of martyrdom with no prospect of resistance or hope. The sensuality, the fascinating substantiality of crime, the vitalities of the acts of violence are in danger, in and by virtue of the work of art, of being made relative to mere human individual, culinary, and eroticist proportions, which must not be conceded to fascism.
Helnwein knows no positive father and leader figures. In the vacuum of authority left by the "fatherless society" (Mitscherlich), their place is taken by the corrupt hero, the dead soldier, the doppelganger, the children and fools, the undependable ("pre-oedipal") mama's boys, and other crisis figures of the late-capitalistic state. The role of the romantic martyr figure is correspondingly ambivalent and full of conflict in Helnwein's stagings. In his photographic diptych A TEAR ON A JOURNEY (1986), he again takes up the popular nostalgic pictorial tradition of World War II and its collective experience.
The Two-part picture consists of a reproduction of an old war photograph showing a bomber squadron approaching and the self-portrait of the artist as a half figure with his head bandaged in white. As an attribute of his martyrdom, a white swan is faded into the background - wearing an eye bandage in turn and abstrusely stigmatized - embodying the suffering creature, which in Helnwein's iconography is, like the child, one of the light and redeemer figures allied with the martyr-artist. (In DEATH OF EXPERTISE, this context is visually evident.) The demonstrative sacrificed gesture of Man of Sorrows is grotesquely alienated and turned into its opposite by his authoritarian commanding pose, the representative bust with the head raised in semi-profile and folded hands. His gold-braided black fantasy uniform, the sleeve of which is adorned by the artist's name as an infantile insignia of rank, is equally suggestive of a commander and violent person as of a stigmatized victim.
With this ambivalent self-portrait in the pose of martyr and leader, Helnwein condensed the contradictory positions of victim and perpetrator into a single figure; both have an aesthetic fascination, thus permitting the applause of repression on the part of old and neo-Nazis. Just as in his three irritating Hitler paintings, in which (in Dali's footsteps) the surreal condensation of the picture of a saint and caricature, of beauty and terror is elevated to a compositional principle, he must provoke the repulsion and mistrust of everyone demanding moral outrage and disgust at the aestheticism of violence, but who in so doing are in the way of a rational treatment of this subject by those wanting to arrive at a concrete concept of the aesthetics of violence and its seductive powers, whether from historical interest of just to see for themselves.
Helnwein already belongs to a generation for which it is just as much a matter of course to use the pictorial heritage of National Socialism and the current Nazi nostalgia as subject matter, without feelings of guilt (but this doesn't amount to assent, either), as it is to take up the reports of the catastrophes and atrocities of today. Like the group of school pupils and young people his art is directed at, he reflects any politically decreed banning of pictures and compulsory moral shock as an indirect form of taboo of sensitive subjects of most recent German history.
Nonetheless, the question arises whether with the limited expressive possibilities of an art in the medium of painting, photography, and montage techniques war, destruction, torture, and a complex machinery of violence such as fascism, entangled as it was with economic crisis and state control mechanisms, can be made aesthetically commensurable. Trying to portray barbarity on the level of human faces and bodies or compressing the experience of violence into an anamorphous victim-perpetrator figure runs the risk of raising the violent political circumstances to the psychological level of masochistic pleasure and sex murder.
The artist who tries it must be aware that he is walking a tightrope between coming to terms with and glorification of a basically impossible subject. The beauty of depravity, the fascinated staring at violence which had already brought Dali to "paranoid-critical" fantasies over the leather shoulder strap cutting into Hitler's fleshy back, make the guilt and the secret assent of art, which goes ahead and treats the incommensurable anyway, all too apparent.
Knowing that the simple metaphores of good and evil, domination and bondage of traditional contrast montage will not do justice to complex social reality, Helnwein has chosen a dynamic dramaturgy of pictures intended to induce to activating equivocality in doppelganger-like pictorial puzzles and to get the visual message now run aground in comparisons, antitheses, and contrasts moving again from scene to scene. The project of an "exhibit opera" now being planned with Peter Zadek and Hans Neuenfels is thus aimed at a fusion of pictorial and scenic forms, a synthesis of exhibit and performance in an open space of time transforming the pictorial content into a horizon of meanings, symbols, and analogies.
Helnwein, whose first work was actionism in parallel to, but not influenced by "Viennese Actionism", is equipped for the temporalization of the picture. By inserting scenic and actionistic motifs, his new large-format, multisectional history and genre pictures, a combination of acrylic and oil painting with photography, take on the aspect of self-portrayal, sometimes even as role playing, in which the artist and his models respect universally human situations and destinies; the pictures thus gain an additional narrative, dramatic element. This permits associating greater, unaccustomed contexts with the objects of the montage, this affording a greater scope to the viewer for coming to terms with it than the schematic construction of opposites and contrasts of traditional antithetical photomontage.
The visual thriller and shocks, the pictures of violent and embarrassing subjects still used by Helnwein, the photographs of his penitent and accusing grimace have most recently been interspersed by monochromatic colour fields added as a kind of meditative resting zone or pause for thought in the noisy view of the objective and figurative motif (WEEP LORD, FOR WE ARE NIGH!, THE GOD OF SUB-HUMANS, II, IT'S ONLY ROCK' N' ROLL . . . ). Helnwein supplies the culturally conditioned viewer, even the museum-goer, with more "food for conversation" and imaginative freedom of movement by inserting pictorial quotations taken from art books or albums on cultural history (such as on the "Biedermeier in Austria"), and by alienating them in linking them to the self-portrait of the artist as Man of Sorrows, he initiates an intra-pictorial dialogue (as in THE SECRET ELITE, photo triptych, 1986).
The grotesque montage of an aggressive photograph of a grimace with romantic pictures quotations of the wild heather rose of a Biedermeier interior aims to alienate and disillusion the manifestations of "wholesome" bourgeois introvertedness. In the ROSE OF SHAME AND THE SONG OF DUPUTIES, a photo triptych of 1986, this is done by a sexual rape fantasy, a shocking unmasking of the "untouched", dewdropped rose blossoms as a feminine chastity symbol, with the screaming mouth of the Man of Sorrow, hideously distorted by surgical clips, singing it's song as "proxy" for the raped female organ. In this self-portrait, the artist's doppelganger role again confronts us as martyr and satyr in one and the same person.
III.
Helnwein always had his eye out for kitsch in working with clichés an stereotypes on the aesthetically trivial level, so that the picture can function as a wall of projections of the viewer's private and social wishes, hopes, feelings of happiness and anxiety. His anonymous pictures are meant as mirror images for everyone, aiming to reach a collective similarity of people depicted and to blow up the specialization of the individual portrait.
In BLITZKRIEG OF LOVE (1986), Helnwein has found an emblematic, ambiguous visual formula for the problems of relations between the sexes, so that man and woman can be seen as a couple, as parents, or as jealous adversaries in a small family fighting over "their" child. The child appears on the middle panel of the photo triptych between the parents as being totally bound into the father-son relationship: "Standing at order" in the war game with the macho father and dressed as a bandit. Here, as elsewhere, it is hard to pin the artist down as to his own standpoint in the war of the sexes, as he always manages to raise the content of the picture to a non-subjective, unprejudiced, "impartial" plane which can only be interpreted through the active eye of the viewer. His ambivalent, doppelganger-like self-portraits as victim-perpetrator are also meant to be taken as more than exalted body-language stagings of artistic autism, but rather as symbols of collective suffering and collective guilt.
Even though Helnwein did his "self-portraits" in various styles in the manner of Bacon, de Chirico, or Jones and not simply in a realism of his own and has arranged them like a polyglot handbook of style or a catalogue of wares, this only goes to show that in this syncretistic kind of presentation (every style is beautiful, which is reminiscent of Warhol's "everything is beautiful"), the artist - in keeping with his criterion of success - is counting on all kinds of viewers and keeps an emotional identification pattern in readiness for each (usually underscored by the title of the picture). In subjectless mass-culture, the relationship between art production and its reception, the cultural communication process of "transmission" and "countertransmission" between artist and public becomes more important than the self-realization of the artist's individuality in an incomparable personal style. If this development was still being discussed an deplored in the sixties as a crisis of the work of art and its autonomour creative nature, in the current tendency to cross and smooth over all boundaries between art and everyday aesthetics it is hardly a subject for discussion. Helnwein is exemplary for this development. His work is indeed an appeal for a model to explain it in terms of the aesthetics of reception and of its motivations.
The central importance of the "self-portrait" in Helnwein's work, the mutable art of a doppelganger, is no accident. It becomes the projection surface of world events. "The artist doesn't make history, history makes him" (Auguste Comte). The artist's doppelganger role as victim and perpetrator, martyr and satyr, penitent and accuser, proxy and self-portrayer, moralist and autist, and in many other metamorphoses embodies and stages the antagonistic social forces on a stage of his inner-world consciousness.
Just as for many painters today, all of the important political subjects have slipped back onto the functional plane for Helnwein, too; they can no longer be adequately shown by rational means on the visual, phenomenological plane unless one uses a tendentiously informative, partisan form of presentation. Helnwein didn't fail to see the bottleneck and tried to combat it with scenic-actionistic addition of icons to triptychs and whole series of pictures; but of course without succeeding or even intending, in this rich "interlacing" of associates of the single pictures to an "exhibit opera", to solve the basic conflict between morals and aesthetics in the iconic depiction of fascism. He doesn't touch up the contradictions, he doesn't protest, either, but symbolically evokes the phenomenon in our consciousness.
With Helnwein and the generation of today's thirty-year-olds, the oppositional, romantic life feeling of the artistic avant-garde has reached a final, radical climax. The artist as unsuccessful, disappointed adversary of the bourgeois becomes a self-styled martyr of a revolution which has not achieved the emancipation of the individual. The age of the negative heroes and dead warriors is dawning. The victim is filled with inner meaning and mystified. The symbolism of sacrifice in the repeated self-portrayals with his wounded likeness seems importunate.
In the first version of THE GOD OF SUB-HUMANS, a photographic triptych of 1986, the middle panel shows the artist as a tortured Man of Sorrows in a white penitential robe with a blood-stained head. He is flanked by two pictures showing his martyr pose to be in the hands of the powers of destiny: war and peace, chaos and order. The left side of this secular winged altarpiece shows an enlarged reproduction of C.F. Friedrich's MORNING IN THE RIESENGEBIRGE (1810/11) from his well-known series of landscapes of the Cross. The painting is "complemented" on the right side by a documentation from World War II, the enlarged photograph of an airplane with the swastika shortly before take-off on a mission.
The romantic landscape picture in art was once expression of man's intimate relationship with nature, the unity of self and being. The romantic artist didn't intend to imitate creation, he wanted to carry it out himself, in analogy to the divine "original act", to exist directly. Contrasting as it does in Helnwein's composition with the implements of war. Friedrich's painting, which, with its peacefully majestic landscape in the clouds and a couple reaching the summit, has been interpreted as an allegory of faith, is transformed into an apocalyptic depiction. The romantic longing for a fusion of the self with the absolute, with nature, with being, as symbolically expressed in the sun-struck mountain climber on the summit crowded by a Cross (the climber is also possibly a self-portrait of the artist), appears in the scenic montage with the war picture as broken and disillusioned.
The romantic mountain climber, the hidden, incidental self-portrait of the artist in Friedrich's landscape painting, is stylized in Helnwein's "winged altarpiece" to the central figure with the characteristics of a martyr. Here, the relationship of man with nature is ambiguous, entangled in mysticism and destruction. The mood of Helnwein's picture is ambivalent regarding both war and peace. The idolized man of romanticism is negatively symbolized and as a doppelganger reduced to a "God of the Inferior", whose demonic nature is allied equally with sacrificial suffering and victimizing violence and suppression.
In the triptych THE PROOF (1986), the hangman and the hanged "pose" together, with Hitler and his blood-thirsty marshalls Göring, Keitel, Dönitz, Himmler on one side as a representative group portrait of the Nazi Reich, with a photographic self-portrait of the artist in the middle, bandaged and alienated as a body hanging from the rope, flanked on the other side wing by the oil and acrylic painting of a head-shaped, bloody mass of flesh.
The self-portrait for the artist's blindfolded unbent head covered with blood occurs twice in his triptych THE SILENT GLOW OF THE AVANTGARDE (1986). The middle panel shows an enlarged reproduction of C.D. Friedrich's POLAR SEA, a depiction of a catastrophe of 1823/24 which is generally interpreted as a romantic allegory of the force of nature overpowering all human effort . Helnwein compared the "quietly theatrical" ecstatic attitude of his self-portrait with the heroic pose of the figure of the suffering figure of Sebastian and generalizes both to the stigma of the artist in the 20th century, making him a kind of saviour figure. In addition, its poetic title sets the viewer onto the right track. The visual montage of the modern artist as Man of Sorrows with Friedrich's landscape painting projects the dashed hopes of the romantic rebellion into the present, to the protest thinking of modernity, which has become introverted and masochistic, and its crossing of aesthetic boundaries.
Is romanticism making a comeback? No; actually, it had never left modernity. But its rebellion is confining and introverting itself in the "body metaphysics" of contemporary artists to its own flesh and blood. Thus, the comeback of romanticism leads for Helnwein, too, to stressing just once of its partial aspects, the stylizing in the form of a self-portrait of a protest introverted to martyrdom which historically was once linked in a contradictory way with social opposition, rebellion, and utopia.
The Silent Glow of the Avant-Garde I
photograph, oil and acrylic on canvas, 1986, 120 x 340 cm / 47 x 133''
Edition BRAUS, Coproduction: Verlag Braus, Heidelberg, J&V Verlag, Wien. © Edition Braus Heidelberg, January 1988. ISBN 3-925835-07-5




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