Whistling past the graveyard: Mercedes Helnwein

12 March 2009 - 10 April 2010

‘Whistling past the graveyard’ is an American idiom, and means pretty much just that: whistling while walking past a graveyard. Faking a cheerful front. Trying to smother some fear. For some reason this idiom made sense in relation to my new body of work. It just seemed to fit. Judging by their expressions I would say there’s probably something the girls in these drawings would rather not talk about – something they’d prefer to sit on. And they’re keeping it in, but it’s kind of leaking out of their faces.’

Mercedes Helnwein’s, February, 2009


The Molesworth Gallery is delighted to present Mercedes Helnwein’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. Her drawings have variously been described as  “photo-realistic delicacies”, “lucid fairy-tales”, “strikingly bizarre”, “haunting”, “southern Gothic”, “evocative” and “unexpected”.  Her self-portraits have been compared to Cindy Sherman and her sense of quiet drama to Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Allen Poe.
Her new solo exhibition, Whistling past the graveyard, consists of a series of large-scale, meticulously executed drawings – some of them in colour, most of them in black pencil – as well as paintings and a series of five digital prints on plexiglas. Each piece in the exhibition depicts a strange “uncompleted” scene drowned in artificial light – truncated moments in time, where accidents teeter on the edge of occurrence, and the minimalistic aftermath of imagined accidents are frozen in aspic.

As the title suggests, something unsettling is being choked by the beautiful women that make up the cast of Whistling past the graveyard.  Demurely dressed with glossy hair and expensive shoes, they are engaged in inexplicable activities involving toy trucks, bars of soap, miniature camels, plastic dinosaurs and strange utensils that look like they might belong into an industrial kitchen from the 1930s.  Despite the innocence of the props, the women’s loaded expressions undermine any straight interpretation of the scenes.
Also included in the exhibition is a video projection, in which the formerly frozen characters jerk to life for the first time in thick, saturated colours.  The toys, antlers and masks are carried over from the drawings into the video, creating a strange world powered by the machine-like movements of the women who are the central inhabitants of Mercedes Helnwein’s work – the perpetrators and the trouble-makers.

Born in Vienna, Austria, and now living in Los Angeles and Ireland, Mercedes Helnwein has had previous solo at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Los Angeles and the Pool Gallery in Berlin.  Her work has been reviewed in The Irish Times, The Los Angeles Times, Anthem Magazine, i-D, Tank, and Flaunt. Her first novel The Potential Hazards of Hester Day was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008. For more information on the artist and the exhibition, please contact the gallery.



Born, Vienna, 1979

Selected exhibitions
2007, Local news, solo exhibition, Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
2007, Strange days, solo exhibition at Bespoke Gallery, New York
May/June 2007 RHA Annual Exhibition, Dublin
June 2006, Last chapter of dreaming, drawings at South Tipperary Arts Centre
May 2005, Beyond Representation, group show curated by Shawn Barber, Scion Dashboard, San Francisco, CA
December 2005, Book of Disquiet - a story of the seven deadly sins by Mercedes Helnwein, book launch and  exhibition of accompanying drawings
February 2005, Whitetrashcharms, group exhibiton
July 2004,  group show, Hunsaker/ Schlesinger Fine Art, Santa Monika, CA

April 2004, America Motel, installation exhibition, various venues Awards

Selected reviews & publications
February 2007, Irish Times, review of solo exhibition at the Molesworth Gallery
December 2005, Book of Disquiet - a story of the seven deadly sins by Mercedes Helnwein, published by Simon & Schuster
January 2005, Flaunt, Magazine, Self-conscious, a story by Dallas Clayton, drawings by Mercedes Helnwein
August 2004, L A Times, review of drawings  show at Hunsaker/ Schlesinger
April 2004, L A Times, article on upcoming American Motel exhibition by Jessica Gelt
January 2004, Flaunt magazine, Honey hold your breath, article by Mercedes Helenwein.