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13 gennaio 2005
Victoria H. Myhren Gallery
School of Art and Art History, University of Denver
Gwen F. Chanzit
IN LIMBO
An exhibition of works from the Denver Art Museum’s fractional and promised gift of contemporary art from the collection of Vicki and Kent Logan.
Helnwein’s subject matter involves the complexities of the human condition. His disturbing yet provocative images of physically and emotionally wounded children have been seen as metaphors for larger global issues. He portrays the innocence of adolescence against the backdrop of shameful historical events like the Holocaust to highlight the fragility of humanity in an unstable world. Like Wong from Asia and Sherman from the United States, Helnwein offers up dramatic scenarios featuring youthful protagonists that beg a viewer to complete the equation. The child’s face – painted in a realistic style yet eerily unreal – may allude to the uncertain (in limbo-like) quality of Helnwein’s own childhood. Helnwein is among a network of contemporary artists expressing visions that embrace and also transcend cultural nomenclature.
“He is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place.”

Hugo of St. Victor, a twelth-century Saxon monk.
Although the artists featured in the exhibition In Limbo hail from distant corners of the globe, their work is linked by a shared sense of dislocation, estrangement, and loneliness. These artists allow us into captured moments of uneasiness that seem rooted in individual, sometimes conflicted and alien experiences both within and outside a native environment. Cindy Sherman, Su-en Wong, Gottfried Helnwein, and Mona Hatoum, like other artists in the show, explore an array of altered states and unresolved opportunities – in short, discomfort within their world.
These artists express age-old concerns that have carried over into the twenty-first century.
They embrace the foreign within themselves and the world or, in the words of Hugo of St. Victor, a twelfth-century Saxon monk:
“The person who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place.”
These “perfect” feelings of dislocation and discomfort are now constant companions of the ever-changing global community. This selection of contemporary art from around the world invited the viewer into an ambiguous, strangely familiar, yet foreign realm. Familiar, because the artists address concerns affected by issues shared by many: gender, politics, class structure, economics, and the environment. Foreign, because these often common issues take on different meanings through the eyes and experiences of individuals within and estranged from their cultural heritage.
With global commerce, the Internet, and faster, more convenient modes of transportation, the world is connected in ways previously unfathomable. While the art world had earlier been centered within spheres, artists today are encouraged to share their ideas and their work among a much larger audience through electronic media and through a rise in well-attended international exhibitions.
Technological advances in photography in the twentieth century have led to its increasingly important and innovative role in artistic expression. While photography had been argued as an artistic medium since the turn of the century by Alfred Stieglitz and others, and used by photographers such as Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange, and Lewis Hine to document social ills, it wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s that photography had slowly achieved stature among fine artists…
Gottfried Helnwein
Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein also tackles uncomfortable issues pertaining to morals and sexuality, yet unlike Wong his viewpoint is shaped by masculine Western images. He has won global recognition by meeting the world head-on with his difficult images and themes. Born in Vienna in 1948, Helnwein grew up in a country reluctant to face the truth of its past association with the Nazi regime. Despite this pervasive political amnesia, Austria was trying to rebuild its social, cultural, and political foundations. This environment of denial played a key role in the formation of Helnwein’s outlook.
“My childhood was a horror. Born right after the war, I lived in a world of deep depression and unlimited boredom. All the grown-ups looked ugly and devastated. I never saw anybody laughing and I never heard anybody sing. I always felt I have landed in limbo. I knew something had happened, but all the adults were unable to talk about it.”
Plagued by his sense of dislocation between the Austria that once was and the one that might be, Helnwein began making art to explore his responses to World War II, the Holocaust, and the ensuing uneasiness permeating his homeland. He was motivated by politics, society, history, the media, and the news. Through his art he was able to confront the status quo, to register his own opinion, and to dissent from an overbearing and manipulative government. He wanted to record emotions deeply buried beneath the scars of war.
Helnwein’s subject matter involves the complexities of the human condition. His disturbing yet provocative images of physically and emotionally wounded children have been seen as metaphors for larger global issues. He portrays the innocence of adolescence against the backdrop of shameful historical events like the Holocaust to highlight the fragility of humanity in an unstable world. He ventures into uncomfortable territory by covertly suggesting that his young subjects posses a sexual identity. Like Wong from Asia and Sherman from the United States, Helnwein offers up dramatic scenarios featuring youthful protagonists that beg a viewer to complete the equation.
Head of a Child (V) at first may seem innocuous, but the more one studies the image, the more likely it may elicit intense uneasiness. This young child’s knowing look reveals a maturity achieved way too soon in life. Her experiences, good and bad, are etched into her countenance. The black shadow from which she emerges covers the right side of her face, perhaps representing what once was, while the left side perhaps alludes to an unknown future. Helnwein paints his portraits to look like photographs by emphasizing monochromes and deep blue-black hues. By relying on strong contrasts, he focuses on character, drawing out the sobriety of his subject. The child’s face – painted in a realistic style yet eerily unreal – may allude to the uncertain (in limbo-like) quality of Helnwein’s own childhood. Helnwein is among a network of contemporary artists expressing visions that embrace and also transcend cultural nomenclature. His portraits speak not only to Austrians and Germans about pain, suffering, uneasiness, and uncertainty; they bring these issues to heart for a wider audience. Curator Robert Flynn Johnson believes Helnwein’s art “has positioned him in the forefront of the highly regarded confrontationalist movements of contemporary art so active in America and Europe today.”
“It’s the viewers who make the pictures.”
Marcel Duchamp
Contemplating the art of In Limbo can be like negotiating a tenuous psychological tightrope: there is undeniable tension in the works regardless of specific interpretations. Many are marked by the intensity of finding a sense of place in increasingly fragmented communities. Most of the exhibition’s works elicit strong psychological responses, relying on spectators to complete the meanings.
This interaction between viewers and the object is critical to all art. As the seminal modernist Marcel Duchamp said:
“Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art: the artist on one hand, and the other the spectator who later becomes the posterity.”
Head of a Child 5
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 1998, 160 x 109 cm / 62 x 42''
PLATES
page 34_35
Gottfried Helnwein
Born 1948, Vienna, Austria
Head of a Child (V)
1998
The removed, apathetic look on this young girl’s face suggests she exists in an uncomfortable reality. Although she is physically present, the empty background and her stare hint that mentally and emotionally she is absent. Perhaps she removes herself from her reality in order to stay sane. The girl is half in shadow but half in light, as if to shed some light on the more elusive inner state hidden behind her face.
Born in 1948 in the wake of World War II, Helnwein often takes as subjects children scarred by painful adult realities. His earliest memories growing up in the post-war Vienna, have influenced his multifigured compositions, many of which include direct Nazi references. Helnwein suggests that reality is determined by the ruler; a ruler defines the reality for everyone. Removed from the horrors that occurred just a few years before he was born, Helnwein interprets and shared his feelings about the past, something people like the girl in his picture do not seem able to do.
Excerpt from the exhibition catalogue "In Limbo"
January 13 – March 11, 2005
An exhibition of works from the Denver Art Museum’s fractional and promised gift of contemporary art from Vicki and Kent Logan, and from the collection of Vicki and Kent Logan.
Victoria H. Myhren Gallery
School of Art and Art History
University of Denver
"In Limbo" was organized by the students enrolled in the 2004 Marsico Curatorial Practicum at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Denver, under the direction of curator and professor Dr. Gwen F. Chanzit:
Julie P. Anderies, Miranda D. Callander, Derek M. Fortini, Jennifer Paul Glaser, Chelsea Hershelman, Elizabeth Kellogg, Tanya Kobilyatsky, Rachel A. Kravitt, Kathleen M. Ludwig, Alexis M. Mathews, Charles P. Pietraszewski, Jeather P. N. Richardson. Angela Steinmetz, Andrea J. Thurber, Jennifer L. Woltil




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