November 9, 2003
Museum of Tolerance
Gottfried Helnwein
HELNWEIN - NINTH NOVEMBER NIGHT, THE DOCUMENTARY (3)
Catalogue, (page 50-79)
"Anyone who sees and paints the sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized." Adolf Hitler . This single sentence sums up the essence of the totalitarian mindset. The world must adhere to an order of which no variation or independence is acceptable. "Epiphany I", 1996 is from an important series of three paintings created over a three-year period. This seamless stapling of a version of the Adoration of the Magi into a scenario out of the Third Reich is in keeping with Helnwein's desire to press the limits. Helnwein wrote, "In the Epiphany trilogy, I refer directly to my (our) own historical background. The most significant issue on the time track of the occident is Christianity and the male dominated world of conquering and oppression. The constant slaughter of the ‘weak’: women, children, the Jews, and other ethnic minorities, through holy wars, crusades and the constant extermination of the inferior." . by Robert Flynn Johnson Curator in charge, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Neunter November Nacht
scanachrome on vinyl, 1988, 1000 cm x 400 cm / 393'' x 157''
(page 50)
MY ART IS NOT AN ANSWER - IT IS A QUESTION
At nights my room was plunged into a deep, red light - my toys, the furniture, my bed, my hands - everything had the same color and seemed to be made of the same soft material. As though the natural laws were suddenly suspended, all matter seemed to glow from the inside out. The explanation for this red magic was the large illuminated star of the Red Army on the roof of the factory across the street, which poured its fire nightly into my room.
The days, in comparison, were gray, sticky like slime and filled with unlimited boredom - everything seemed ugly and unreal to me. I grew up in Vienna, after the war. I lived with my parents in Favoriten, a traditional Viennese working-class district, that then belonged to the Soviet occupied zone. The building we lived in endured a miserable existence between an old foundry from the turn of the century and a gray monster of a factory from the Nazi era, which now bore the sign of its new masters on its roof - that very same enormous red star.
In my memories everything is rusty and covered in dust. The streets looked like they were dead, nothing moved, nobody talked. The few people that I saw were bulky, misshapen and bent. I can’t remember ever having heard someone sing or laugh. A world that stood still, without sounds, without colors, without movement - only sometimes interrupted by a chattering cumbersome truck, filled with Soviet soldiers, blaring through the streets. And then it was silent again.
I had the feeling that people around me tried to be overlooked - not to be perceived. The only thing they seemed to fear was to be visible - to be discovered. A city that played dead-man.
I was a stranger, whose spaceship had crashed on an unknown planet and so was stranded with no possibilities of ever leaving again. Not only did I seem to have lost my orientation through the impact of the crash, but my memory as well, because I had forgotten who I was and where I came from. There was only one thing I was certain of: that this was an alien world in whose merciless embrace I was now caught. It was like the aftermath of a sloppy end of the world, where the few people that had survived, now continued cautiously to vegetate amongst the ruins, hoping to remain unnoticed by the Eternal Judge.
What I didn’t know then was that I had been born shortly after my stupid ancestors had lost the second of the two world-wars that they had caused within the last 30 years – which had turned 1000 years of culture into ashes and annihilated the lives of more than 50 million people
And when I found the photographs of my father, my grandfathers and my uncles all in uniforms of Hitler’s army, I started to ask questions.
Unfortunately, I was speaking either in the wrong tongue or they also suffered amnesia, because I never got any answers. But I was a very insistent child and I never gave up asking, despite the fact that it didn’t get me anywhere.
And then there was this one miraculous moment when I turned 18, this instance of revelation - suddenly I knew there was a way out: I had to become an artist. And I started to paint. I didn’t know much about the art-world and other artists, and I didn’t care about styles and techniques. I just began to formulate my old questions now as images, and step by step I developed my own visual language.
And I was not prepared for the avalanche of emotional reactions that my little watercolor-paintings triggered, I was quite surprised to realize that suddenly I seemed to be in possession of a superior magic language, capable of cutting through everything and reaching deep into the hearts of people and moving and touching them. And to my amazement this nation of mutes started to talk, to respond, to shout, to cry and to whisper. And I found myself in a very emotional and powerful dialogue with a growing number of people, that never stopped and became the momentum and destiny of my life.
When I started to paint I didn’t feel I had any message, my art was not an answer – it was a question.
By painting my first painting, at the end of 1969, I started an expedition into unknown territory and 30 years later I’m still on this staggering voyage of discovery, and I’m still asking my questions.
Gottfried Helnwein
(page 56)
AGAINST HARMLESSNESS IN ART
by Peter Zawrel
Chief Curator, Museum of Lower Austria
Apokalypse, one man show and installation by Gottfried Helnwein at the Dominican Church in Krems
Helnwein's work is perfectly executed proof of the mastery of all the available means to outdo the reality in depiction.
Only in this way was Helnwein able to trigger the shock that he intended, a shock with a possible healing effect whose first target was the repression of the greatest trauma of our century.
The repression of National Socialism, the complicity and its consequences had been declared an official policy in Austria. In this way the generations born after 1945 had no chance to deal with the barbaric, neither with its outbreak a few years earlier nor with its lingering latent presence.
Everything had become harmless again. The revelation occurred only in 1986 when Kurt Waldheim became President of Austria and a "case" that was discussed world-wide. Out of this specifically Austrian situation, Helnwein developed a visual language depicting apocalyptic visions that can be understood all over the world. The beautiful and the ugly, the fear of the terrible and the power of its fascination, the clearly recognisable and that which cannot be interpreted but lurks outside the painting as well as outside the nursery door, and more closely intertwined in these pictures than those of any other living artist.

Helnwein chose the exhibition title Apocalypse not because this is what he paints or because the apocalyptic in the broadest sense of the word is the theme of these paintings. Instead these paintings themselves want to be an apocalypse, a revelation. The biblical text is called "The Book of Revelation". The mysterious is an integral part of any apocalyptic vision. Helnwein's paintings contain a recognisable mystery. That does not mean, however, that they cannot be understood. Quite the opposite is true. At the end of this century a considerable proportion of contemporary art has become unintelligible to most people. Is it not as though the works had become so hermetic that their enigma can only be solved with relevant training and connoisseurship - this has always been the case- but rather because the mysteries have disappeared from art. In this way it had often become harmless.
The enigma of Helnwein's paintings always has to do with guilt and atonement, perpetrators and victims, accusation and remorse. He has never left the Christian world of ideas and images of his childhood, but instead has used it for his own artistic purposes. Nevertheless he has not become a John of painting like the John of the biblical Revelation, who depicted his compelling visions. Instead Helnwein uses his entire oeuvre as a weapon in the apocalypse of this world.
For this alone can be the revelation of his art - that salvation has to occur in reality rather than in art.
(page 62)
"I made a promise to myself to remember everything I saw; if someone should pluck out my eyes, then I would retain the memory of all that I had seen for as long as I lived."
Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird
(page 64)
Epiphany I, (Adoration of the Magi)(X) (1996) depicts a beautiful contemporary Madonna and Child, as Himmler's elite SS officers examine them as though encircling a precious art object or eugenic creation. One officer closely inspects the fingers and genitalia of the Child, while two more appear to check out the Madonna's attributes from the rear. Another handsome young officer stands in nervous awe of her, as though about to deliver some official proclamation on the little Messiah who, if we look closely, is slightly "cross-eyed."
Gottfried Helnwein has collaged his Madonna into what was once a photograph of Hitler surrounded by SS men, taken in the last days in the Berlin bunker before the Russians raped the city. The young officer was one Mr. Wünsche who survived the war, and went on to work in Siemens. When Helnwein showed this work in Germany in 1996, Wünsche's widow demanded that Helnwein remove him from the painting and threatened to sue for defamation, claiming that her late husband was being depicted as a racist. But Helnwein stood firm. "It would have been a very interesting case, and I was ready for it" - but the Wünsche lawyers backed off.
by Mic Moroney, Kilkenny Arts Festival, Ireland, 2001
(page 68)
"Anyone who sees and paints the sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized." Adolf Hitler
This single sentence sums up the essence of the totalitarian mindset. The world must adhere to an order of which no variation or independence is acceptable. "Epiphany I", 1996 is from an important series of three paintings created over a three-year period. This seamless stapling of a version of the Adoration of the Magi into a scenario out of the Third Reich is in keeping with Helnwein's desire to press the limits. Helnwein wrote, "In the Epiphany trilogy, I refer directly to my (our) own historical background. The most significant issue on the time track of the occident is Christianity and the male dominated world of conquering and oppression. The constant slaughter of the ‘weak’: women, children, the Jews, and other ethnic minorities, through holy wars, crusades and the constant extermination of the inferior."
.
by Robert Flynn Johnson
Curator in charge, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
THE MURMUR OF THE INNOCENTS
Most of the city pictures emerge from a deceptively simple strand of Helnwein's work, the frank photography of children's faces. He photographed over ninety children in Kilkenny. Now these kids are immortalised, larger than life in their extreme youth, and dotted around the gable-ends and walls of their native town; their eyes closed in beautiful, breathless meditation. Mounted in a manner which is normally the preserve of billboard advertising, these are quietly awesome images of the city's youngest inhabitants.
... but who, one wonders, could have a problem with pictures of children; their slumbering faces murmuring telepathically from somewhere far beyond us - even on such a monumental scale? What could be simpler or more inoffensive than a child's face?
However, such images evidently irritated somebody in Köln in 1988, when Gottfried Helnwein himself funded a public art installation - after he failed to raise sponsorship - to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9th 1938. That was the night that Nazis ran riot across Germany, looting and burning Jewish homes and businesses, and setting alight the touchpaper of the Holocaust.
In the context of the muted, conceptualist Holocaust art-memorials in Germany and Austrian, the City of Köln refused Helnwein permission to exhibit on its property. But Helnwein got his hands on a little strip of land which belonged to the railways, suitably enough.
Facing onto a pedestrian walk-way along a railway bridge, he mounted a long line of four-metre high children's faces, powdered white, many with their eyes closed, after the huge word "SELEKTION" - as though these kids were to be weeded out for concentration camps. Despite CCTV video cameras, somebody - probably a neo-Nazi - came along one night, and painstakingly sliced the throats of every single child-portrait.
.
by Mic Moroney
Kilkenny Arts Festival, Ireland, 2001
POLICE INVESTIGATES KILKENNY ART ATTACKS
Police is investigating attacks on two images by the controversial Austrian artist, Gottfried Helnwein, displayed as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival.
A spokesman for the festival said they were "disappointed and saddened" that the images had been attacked. He said Mr.Helnwein's work had provoked a strong reaction throughout the festival. "There have been a lot of positive comments but there has been negative reaction as well."
The images have been a major talking point since before the festival began. A former mayor of the city, Mr.Paul Cuddihy, initially objected to a painting being hung on the City Hall for fear it might be misinterpreted as lending support to Nazism. After meeting Mr.Helnwein at his studio however, Mr.Cuddihy said the artist's work was "astonishingly good".
Kilkenny Arts Festival said the artist had a long and acknowledged record of taking a firm stand against Nazism and fascism.
.
by Chris Dooley,
The Irish Times, 18. August 2001
(page 69)
HELNWEIN: THE ARTIST AS PROVOCATEUR
Much like Joseph Beuys, who opened new, unexpected, and far-reaching spheres for art, Gottfried Helnwein has made works that extend beyond the art scene into the social and political realm. Like his predecessor, he has moved beyond the realm of pure aesthetics, engaging his art into the everyday world. Furthermore his principal interest is not to express personal feelings and emotions, but to make statements that go beyond the individual. He wants to see his work not trapped on the walls of museums and galleries, but revealed in the public domain. He expects his work to intervene in the social sphere and to have a direct impact on the life of his time.

by Peter Selz
Professor Emeritus, Department of Art History, University of California, Berkeley.
Former Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum.
(page 73)
Black Mirror

A story by Stephen King. An American schoolboy, twelve or thirteen years old, fascinated in his small-town boredom by documents on the German concentration camps - the way his classmates are by Superman - the formula of his fascination: THEY JUST DID THOSE THINGS...
At his daily bus stop, he recognises a face he has seen in photographs, under a black cap with skull insignia and above a black SS uniform. The boy blackmails the unidentified murderer to tell HOW DID YOU DO THOSE THINGS. The murderer tells to save his life. Curiosity becomes the urge for real experience: the two of them found Murder Inc. and rid the small town of dogs, tramps, and other "unworthy life"...
How does a friendly person like Helnwein stand making his - excellent - painting into a mirror of the terrors of this century? Or is it that he can't stand not doing it? Does his mirror just reflect the attitude of the century? TERROR WITHOUT END IS BETTER THAN AN ENDING IN TERROR. It comes from the over-evaluation of death, a consequence of "statistics" making it taboo. Perseus guillotines the Gorgon in the mirror, and when the head falls, it is his own. How many heads does a person/man have in our age of mirrors?
Heiner Müller
(page 80+81)




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