This started out as a post on Gottfried Helnwein but ended up being about Messerschmidt (1736 – 1783).
An unidentified bust by Messerschmidt (1736 – 1783). One can only guess what makes a man in the 18th century make busts like this one. Wikipedia says “at about 1770-72 Messerschmidt began to work on his so-called character heads, obviously connected with certain paranoid ideas and hallucinations from which, at the beginning of the seventies, the master began to suffer.” If anything, this work reminds me of this.
Viennese-born Helnwein is part of a tradition going back to the 18th century, to which Messerschmidt’s (another artist of the grotesque) grimacing sculptures belong. One sees, too, the common ground of his works with those of Viennese actionists Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, who display their own bodies in the frame of reference of injury, pain, and death. One can also see this fascination for body language goes back to the expressive gesture in the work of Egon Schiele.