I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced. Paintings that move you through their skill, subject, message and motif. The Albertina delivers another year-end gift with their Gottfried Helnwein exhibition.
- Focus on the last three decades of Helnwein’s art
- Provocative with purpose
- Astonishing photorealistic paintings
- 43 works in total
- Runs Oct 25, 2023 to Feb 11, 2024
- Book Albertina tickets* online
- See also:
Reality and Fiction
(Gottfried Helnwein, The Disasters of War 76, 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas; private Collection © Gottfried Helnwein | Bildrecht Vienna, 2023)
Every now and then you see a piece of art that has some powerful visceral impact.
Perhaps a thing of beauty that adds sweet curves to the rough edges of life. Or something with a harrowing undertone that clings to you like the smell of brine at the seaside.
Back in 2020, just as I was dipping early toes into contemporary art, I wandered around the Albertina’s Warhol to Richter exhibition. The pieces within have slipped through the sieve that claims to be my memory. With one notable exception:
Epiphany 1 (The Adoration of the Magi 3), painted in 2013 by the internationally-acclaimed Austrian artist, Gottfried Helnwein (b.1948).
Nazi officers encircle a young mother in a Madonna pose; the child standing on her lap a kind of baby Hitler. It’s magnetic and incredibly disconcerting, sinister even. I find it hard to look at now. But hard to look away, too.
To see what I mean, take a trip around the Albertina in late 2023 or early 2024, where the painting forms part of the Gottfried Helnwein: Reality and Fiction exhibition.
The Nazi era is one of Helnwein’s themes, his sociocritical viewpoint a warning (and one perhaps never more relevant than in the current times, as the world seems intent on repeating the mistakes of the past).
(Gottfried Helnwein, Pink Mouse 2, 2016, oil and acrylic on canvas; ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Gottfried Helnwein | Bildrecht Vienna, 2023)
Helnwein uses motifs and metaphors to tackle other “sensitive” topics, like the instrumentalisation of children or violence against minors.
You suspect some people would rather sweep such uncomfortable themes under the carpet, thus confirming the importance of Helnwein’s art.
The artist himself notes in a 2021 interview:
I hate injustice and I hate to see people being hurt, abused, humiliated and suppressed. Maybe some consider this radical and think of me as a pain in the ass. They are welcome, but I have no intention to shut up.
The exhibition focuses on the artist’s output during the last three decades.
I found the works seem to tug at your mind, asking more questions than they might answer. A fairytale figure where something is just not… “right”. A manga-style figure in an unusual context. A popular children’s character engaging with a Nazi dictator.
Quite apart from the motifs, the stunning photorealistic quality of some works left me slack-jawed in disbelief. What look like staged photos turn out to be oil paintings.
And, of course, Epiphany 1 right at the end to ensure I left the Albertina with goosebumps.
Dates, tickets & tips
Find your way around Gottfried Helnwein’s art from October 25th, 2023 to February 11th, 2024. An entrance ticket for or from the Albertina includes the special exhibition.
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
The changing of the year is a time of many treats in the Vienna art world. Check the exhibition listings for highlights.
May I recommend, though, the Michelangelo and Beyond exhibition just a couple of floors above Helnwein? It features depictions of the human form by the Renaissance great and those who followed (from Raphael and Rembrandt to Klimt and Schiele).
How to get there
Simply use the travel tips at the foot of the main Albertina article.
Address: Albertinaplatz 1, 1010 Vienna