3 August 1981
The Washington Post
Jo-Ann Lewis


Baumgartner Galleries, 2016 R St. NW, is introducing the work of Gottfried Helnwein, a young Viennese artist who shares what seems to be an Austrian obsession with highly detailed realism - with a surrealistic edge. Trained at the Austrian Academy, and now in the process of moving to New York, Helnwein makes figurative drawings and watercolors that are occasionally gruesome, sometimes haunting and always ambiguous. Spatial and narrative ambiguity are, in fact, the central expressive devices in Helnwein's art.

Beautiful Victim I, 1974

A large, meticulously painted watercolor titled "A Dream" is typical. In it, the viewer is lured into pondering whether the lone figure of a child in a muted pink dress is asleep on the ground, or has been hit by a roadside in a puddle, or on white sand in the sun?

Few parents are likely to trot such a painting home to hang over the family hearth, but the artist's ability to conjure up open-ended dramatic narrative is unquestionable.

Easier to look at - and live with - are several small paintings and crosshatched drawings of people caught in poses and with facial expressions that leave everything to the imagination: Are they happy or sad? Asleep or dead? Singing or letting forth with primal screams? These cleverly conceived conundrums will continue through October.