It’s not often that internationally recognized contemporary artists such as Gottfried Helnwein visits St Petersburg, FL. However, we at Imagine Museum are very fortunate of the friendship between our Founder, Trish Duggan and Gottfried Helnwein that brings him to the area, and specifically Imagine Museum.

It was during 2019 and 2020, these two friends determined to collaborate on an installation for Imagine Museum. Helnwein is known around the world for his haunting, sometimes disturbing photo-realistic acrylic and oil paintings. He has created operas, live performances, film documentaries and videos, interacting with almost every medium to communicate his desires, his thoughts and ideas with images that will not only capture your attention but bring you into his haunting message and strong communication of repulsion or pure aesthetics.

Gottfried Helnwein

“When I look at a work of art I ask myself: does it inspire me, does it touch and move me, do I learn something from it, does it startle or amaze me – do I get excited, upset? And this is the test any artwork has to pass: can it create an emotional impact on a human being even when he has no education or any theoretical information about art? I’ve always had a problem with art that can only be understood by somebody with a degree in art history and I have a problem with theories… Most critics and theorists have little respect for art and artists, and I think the importance of theory in art is totally overrated.  Real art is self-evident. Real art is intense, enchanting, exciting and unsettling; it has a quality and magic that you cannot explain. Art is not logic, and if you want to experience it, your mind and rational thinking will be of little help. Art is something spiritual that you can only experience with your senses, your heart, and your soul.”

— Gottfried Helnwein

So how did these seemingly disparate souls find common purpose for their collaboration? For those who follow Ms. Duggan, they know her to be uplifting, inspirational and generous and her art reflects those attributes as she aspires to bring more beauty into the world. For those who follow Gottfried Helnwein, they know his work to be disrupting, sometimes disturbing, but always communicating, inviting the viewer to look closer, see the reality of his images, embrace them and perhaps, walk away with a feeling of confusion or dread… but, maybe with a feeling of “can we be better?” Should we let go of some of our social, mediocre selves and be brave enough to bring truth to the surface in order to bring about the change we desire.  

Gottfried Helnwein at Imagine Museum

Ms. Duggan created glass cast sculptures of the Virgin Mary’s face as depicted in the Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo.  She had acquired an actual mold of the Virgin Mary’s face from the Pieta and determined to create an installation that would inspire viewers to be uplifted by the image as it represents womanhood, compassion, as well as motherhood and the bonds of family. Helnwein in turn created a series for the collaboration of blue monochromatic paintings that are adaptions of female faces by the great Renaissance masters, which he believes these depictions are the epitome of femininity.

Gottfried Helnwein piece of art

How is femininity defined and its relationship to the idealized Virgin Mary in the Pieta? According to Wikipedia, feminine traits include empathy, expressiveness, honesty, love, kindness and nurturing. These traits are what Michelangelo was depicting when he sculpted his Pieta that has survived and continues to this day to inspire all who view it. So together, the installation entitled, “Blue Madonna” invites the viewer to engage with the femininity in all of us whether male or female. We can witness the compassion of the Virgin Mary as she looks down at her crucified son and knowing, her sacrifice, was the sacrifice for all mankind. You can view her expression up close as you interact with Ms. Duggan’s glass sculptures or look closely at Helnwein’s paintings.  

There are 9 Helnwein paintings in the exhibit, two taken from the Pieta sculpture and the other seven are images taken from four paintings depicting the Madonna by Da Vinci, one by Raffaello Santi, another by Agnolo Bronzino and the “Girl With A Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer.

“I think Leonardo da Vinci is the best example of the artist’s struggle to visualize the essence of spirituality – something that is of course immaterial and has no form or shape – as he always ends up with the idealized image of a women.” 

Gottfried Helnwein

With the “Faces of Mary” series, Ms Duggan stated, “I wanted to show by duplication how Mary’s face can reflect the face of all women, of all mothers who demonstrate unconditional love and compassion for their children and within a broader scope, all mankind. Our goal with the installation is to give the viewer a moment of introspection where one can look at personal journeys and the “mothers” who inspired them, who supported our dreams, encouraged our sense of wonder, and shared an unconditional love that brings us peace.”

Gottfried Helnwein exposition

The installation will be up through the end of 2022. You can get your tickets to experience this thought-provoking collaboration by visiting our Plan Your Visit page.

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