Past exhibition

Gottfried Helnwein – Sleep of Reason

11.04.2021 – 20.06.2021

Gottfried Helnwein is known for his hyper-realistic images and his photo portraits of celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Manson and the band Rammstein. In his provocative images, he articulates themes of violence and abuse in ways that are as compelling as they are shocking. In particular, children, whose innocence, naivety and tenderness he brings into focus, are projection surfaces for him.

Above all, the culture of European Romanticism provides him with iconographic motifs and subjects, especially its black side, with its abysses of the soul lost in nightmares, in the disturbing and in its own dramaturgy of fear and cruelty. There are direct quotations from Caspar David Friederich, Johann Heinrich Füssli, Arnold Böcklin, to the emphatically Christian in early Romanticism and to Richard Wagner’s “Gesamtkunstwerk”. From Wagner and Nietzsche, a stringent arc develops to Hitler’s propaganda machinery, the staged epic mass marches of the SS, and leads in Helnwein’s case not least to his great Carl Barks admiration, whereby he himself fits Mickey Mouse into the context of Nazi rule.

The exhibition is dedicated for the first time to this level of reflection in Helnwein’s work and first summarizes those dark paintings in which the image is developed out of blackness and deep blue (as a romantic keynote) and leads over to the atrocities of the Nazi regime, in that in particular the experiments on imprisoned persons and those segregated into psychiatric wards underpin the racial ideology. The central motif of almost all of Helnwein’s pictures is the innocent child, above all defenselessly at the mercy of adults. The childlike nature, from the innocence of the early years to young girls who themselves take up arms in his more recent works, shows differentiated facets of the soul that are stirring, emotionally gripping, and technically brilliantly realized.

Gottfried Helnwein, who lives in Ireland and Los Angeles, has been a highly respected international artist for decades and has lost none of his impact. His themes seem – on the contrary – to be more topical than ever. Early on, works by him were acquired by the famous collector couple Peter and Irene Ludwig, which today can be found in the Ludwig Forum in Aachen, the Ludwig Museum in Vienna and the State Russian Museum, the so-called Marble Palace, in St. Petersburg ,among others. Numerous international exhibitions in important museums as well as theater productions followed.

Works on loan for the exhibition at the Ludwig Museum come from the collection of the Albertina, Vienna, the artist’s own collection as well as numerous private collections from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The works in the exhibition will subsequently be presented at the 17th Architecture Biennale in Venice.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive catalogue (German/English). Authors: Klaus Honnef (art critic), Demetrio Paparoni (art critic), Beate Reifenscheid (Ludwig Museum, Koblenz), Publisher: Silvana Editoriale, Milan, German/English, 176 pages, price approx. 29,-Euro in the museum.


Press Appointment
Appointments to preview the exhibition are possible from Thursday, April 8, 2021. We are happy to arrange interviews with the artist on request or forward your questions. We look forward to your visit!
Contact: Tel. 0261 /3040415, E-mail:

The opening program must unfortunately be cancelled due to the ban of events. Nevertheless, we invite you to visit the exhibition starting on April 11.
Please note: depending on the amount of the 7-day incidence, appointments are necessary to visit the exhibition. Contact: Tel. 0261 /3040415, E-mail:

Further information

Press Release “Gottfried Helnwein – Seep of Reason”

(20) Gottfried Helnwein, The Murmur of the Innocents 71, 2019, Private Sammlung © Gottfried Helnwein, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2021

(20) Gottfried Helnwein, The Murmur of the Innocents 71, 2019, Private Sammlung © Gottfried Helnwein, VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2021


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