Sunday, August 10, 2008

What is the difference between seeing a copy and the original of a painting? The scrupulous observers at the Rudolfinum Gallery have found an invaluable answer to this question. Let me explain.

The great Viennese artist Gottfried Helnwein held a retrospective (Angels Sleeping) at Pragues lovely Rudolfinum. It would be a crime to miss it, so I went there. For those of you who don't know, Helnwein is obsessed with the subject of child exposed to torture/agression (das maltratierte kind/l'enfant maltraité) as a metaphor for the human condition. The children of Helnwein are a wee bit different than their traditional counterparts: Look at the expression in the face of the Sonntagskind(a painting that should've been in the exhibiton), she has lost the innocence so commonly associated with the child, the chocolate bar given as a bribe to keep her silent accentuates the tradegy we infer from the blood dripping between her legs. The duck welcomes her to the surreal, absurd world of adulthood.

Sonntagskind and loads of other das maltratierte kind paintings usually convey their message by the scars on faces(our primordial medium of expression).

For Helnwein, the artist under the Nazi regime is the abused child (he later developped the idea and made the Art In America series). So, Angels Sleeping starts with a self portrait full of pain, a reckless critique of freedom of expression.

Ok, I would love to, but I'm not going to guide you through all the paintings in the exhibition. Just look at this before I get to the point. What do you see?

The child (this time depicted as the traditional innocent child) is about to be tortured by some scarfaced nazi-like (look at the over confident expression in their faces) burocrats. One can see that maybe once these people gathered around the altar were as innocent as her. Our scars are transitive.

The viewers of the exhibiton were astonished by the sheer size and the amazing detail of one of the untitled paintings. It is about a large mass of people gathered in front of a monument that resembles the Reichstag.

Now let's look at the lower left corner of the painting so you can see the details, regret the fact that you missed an exhibition, and maybe see the lead that Helnwein left us to link this painting to his other masterpieces.

Our clue is 2 brushstrokes that remind us this is not reality, it is just a beautifully crafted masterpiece. A masterpiece crafted by an intelligent man who can not settle with creating something beautiful but tries to tell something new with it. Look closer:

And finally, if you change the angle you see the painting, where the 2 brushstrokes end, you will find a secret painted on all of the faces, a white stain that doesn't only brighten their brows, but connects this painting with all the das maltratierte kind paintings: it is their scars. The scars that they hide, but who gather them all in front of the building and gives the oppressors the power they need to diffuse the oppression.

Here is a photoshopped version for the faint hearted: