REUTERS City, 20. May 2000
THE SHOCK OF THE REAL
A year or so back, an exhibition called Sensations caused a few upsets, first in London and then in New York. Central to the reaction was a large-scale portrait of a child-killer assembled from, if I remember correctly, the palm prints of children. So far, so bland. The shock element in art has been much talked about in the last five years but art that actually shocks has been thin on the ground during the same period.
Step forward then, Gottfried Helnwein.
By and large, if art is going to shock, it better have something shocking to
say,and it's clear that Helnwein has found that.
The images on display at the Robert Sandelson Gallery (5a Cork Street, London
W1) are eye-poppingly horrific. Several of Helnwein's big canvases depict officers
in Nazi uniforms. On one scene, confident, well-groomed men gaze serenely and
approvingly at what appears to be a naked infant Hitler, balanced on his mother's
knee. In another, facially scarred war veterans are grouped round the limp
figure of a child lying on a table with her legs dangling down lifelessly from
There's more. Of the remaining images, the majority depicts the remains of
pickled foetuses from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, stored in Viennese
museums. At about ten times life size (or, more accurately, death size) and
rendered in a greenly yellow glow, these looks disturbingly alien. Their unstressed
poses and closed eyelids suggest sleep rather than death.
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