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A quick reading of the introductory material for this exhibition marking the 75th birthday of leading Austrian artist Helnwein might well put off a potential visitor. It promises: “Every single work of his is an accusation of cruelty and ruthlessness, of the horrors of fascism.”

Worthy as that may be, it doesn’t sound very entertaining. All a bit too direct for art, even too literally repulsive, perhaps? Where is the mental and visual stimulation, the entertainment, engagement? The heavy-footed intro also claims Helnwein sees himself as primarily a conceptual artist while going on to say his work is both “uncompromising realism” and “hyperrealist”. Such labeling seems immediately contradictory. And yet, this body of work is simply engaging, teasing, controversial, even highly enjoyable. Memo to all: don’t read the intros when looking at art.

Helnwein’s body of work plays with popular culture, art history and, yes, some very serious and troubling aspects of our history and culture. Whatever the ideas may come from and head towards, the art itself exists in a beautifully suspended visual space that can be amusing, shocking, and always thought-provoking. At a risk of sounding like another quote from the bad intro, let’s conclude by saying the show is a visual interrogation and a revelation of how high and low culture, past and present, can all be united in Helnwein’s fascinating career through visual play.

Top image: Gottfried Helnwein, Gottfried Helnwein 'Disasters of War', 2016.

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