Sélection d'articles
21 juillet 2008
Czech Business Weekly
Tereza Tomíčková
Angels and demons meet in mixed media
The exhibition Angels Sleeping shows a cross section of work from Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein that effectively lifts the lid on the darker elements of humanity.
It’s immediately obvious that Angels Sleeping is going to be both powerful and unsettling. The first picture that catches the eye, “Modern Sleep I” (Moderní spánek I), is of a young girl wearing only a man’s jacket that brings to mind a Nazi uniform. A tear is in the corner of her eye and she appears to be looking fixedly at some object outside the painting’s scope. The light on her sweet-looking face and flashes of bare skin gives a sense of vulnerability and innocence that combines uncomfortably with how she is dressed. It creates a sense of foreboding in any observer thinking about what circumstances could lead to her being dressed this way. This is just the beginning of images that bring the maltreatment of children to the forefront, in particular Helnwein’s merciless references his country’s Nazi past.
In the 1998 work “Epiphany III (presentation at the temple)” (Zjevení III, uvedení do chrámu), several men in suits stand around looking out of the picture, as though posing for a photograph. What makes this disturbing is that a young girl lies unconscious on a table in front of the group. Wearing only a white nightdress, her bare legs hang off the edge of the table. Additionally many of the men’s faces are disfigured, as though victims of a fire or accident.
The victimization of young children is not the only theme. There is also a heavy focus on faces, including Helnwein’s 2008 “Self portrait” (Autoportrét). As with much of his work, it is mixed media with oil and acrylic on canvas. In this painting, a bandage is wrapped around part of his head, covering the top half his face, with forks taped to his head. The prongs of the fork are bent inwards into the inner corner of his eyes and his mouth is wide open in a silent shout, creating the impression of torture and the inability to express oneself freely.
In the 1996 “Fire” (Požár) series, Helnwein paints, in blue monochrome, the faces of deceased cultural icons such as U.S. guitarist Jimi Hendrix and Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara. The images are so dark that their faces are only perceptible when standing in close proximity. The faces are painted with photographic precision but they are all staring out of the murkiness of an ever receding past.
Later in the exhibition visitors see Helnwein’s take on America, his work subverting its popular culture. The red toned “Mouse (X)” (Myšák X) shows a demonic looking Mickey Mouse, while in “LA Confidential” (LA Tajné), a reference to James Ellroy’s 1990 crime novel, a uniformed cop and a man who appears to be a plain clothes detective contemplate the body of a man that has the head of Donald Duck. This image is one of several in Helnwein’s paintings where the American police force are disparaged. In “American Madonna (Epiphany IV)” (Americká Madona, Zjevení IV) created in 2000, a beautiful young woman—half covered in shiny material with a benevolent expression like that typically used for the Madonna—sits with a baby boy on her knee. A police officer in the latter part of middle age is leaning over, one hand on the bare knee of the woman, his unappealing and jowly face pushed toward them while the baby points a finger at him accusingly.
The exhibition finishes with a switch in media, specifically photographs of U.S. musician Marilyn Manson, all in keeping with his dark media image. The photographs vary from Manson imitating saintly gestures from hagiographic paintings, wearing a silver mask that covers half his face giving him a cyborg-like appearance, and wearing make-up that makes him look halfway between clown and demon. In “The Golden Age 1” (Zlatý věk 1), from 2003, the demonized Mickey Mouse makes another appearance as Manson has a black painted face and is wearing Mickey ears, shockingly blue contact lenses and silver false teeth.
Overall, Angels Sleeping leaves an unsettling but powerful impression.
Galerie Rudolfinum
Alšovo nábřeží 12, Prague 1
Open daily except Mondays 10 a.m.–6 p.m., runs to Aug. 31
Tickets: Kč 120, students and seniors Kč 60
Angels Sleeping
Angels Sleeping

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