People have been extremely interested in talking about the Holocaust denials of Nazi-imagery artist Charles Krafft, which I first wrote about in The Stranger a month ago. I was asked in a podcast last week whether I'd smash it if I owned it. The answer to that was easy: I wouldn't bother martyring it. What I would do with it was a slightly harder question. I answered that I guess I'd hide it behind objects by better artists, and let it moulder in shadow. I'm pretty tired of talking about Charles Krafft.
But many people are not, and I understand that, too. The questions now are mainly about the fate of the objects. About what they mean now. About how to think about a teapot in the shape of Hitler's head, or a perfume bottle stoppered with a swastika and titled Forgiveness, or, for that matter, any of the works Krafft has made that are on their surface not directly related to the Third Reich or war or violence—although there are surprisingly few that are indirectly not related to those subjects. For me, they've become one hell of a lot less interesting now that I know they all spring from the mind of an aspiring demagogue claiming to be a victim. Dullest. Trick. In. Book.
Most of why the conversation isn't going away is because the art itself keeps popping up. It's everywhere. Tim Detweiler, former Museum of Northwest Art director, who spoke eloquently on public radio's Studio 360 about what museums can do when showing Krafft's works now, tipped me off last week that Krafft's work is currently on display in an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The accusation that the community of Seattle is especially complacent compared to the East Coast, Detweiler said, is ridiculous. Maybe. But since this is where I live, this is where I care about.
On Monday at Gallery4Culture, I ran into Sara Edwards, who organized the City Arts festival where Krafft's Forgiveness was displayed two years ago. She's now thinking twice about her own assumptions, she said—especially the assumption that other people think like you do. As my father once said, let this be a lesson to you, and to me.
When I visited the home of collectors Bob Kaplan and Margaret Levi yesterday—where they live with their collection of Australian aboriginal paintings and sculptures (featured at Seattle Art Museum last year in Ancestral Modern)—they pointed out a Krafft painting hanging in the entrance to their bedroom. It was made before Krafft's turn toward White Nationalism or even his ceramics focus. It's an ominous painting of a military bunker, and it's beautiful. And creepy. (Is it more creepy now? I don't know. I only just saw it for the first time.) Levi is a world-renowned scholar of "trustworthy government" and has spent her life studying and writing and teaching about social justice. At her office in UW's political science department, she has more Kraffts, delicate Delft ceramic guns that she assumed contained an implicit stance against violence.
Making comedy out of the situation is one option. Matt Besser, one of the founders of Upright Citizens Brigade, happens to be the son of Samuel Besser, the collector I wrote about in the original story, who gave his collection including Krafft's Hitler teapot to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. Samuel Besser, now passed, was a man against "isms," who was taunted as a boy for being Jewish, then kept out of non-Jewish organizations in college. The DeYoung curator had speculated that if Samuel Besser had known about Krafft's ideology, Samuel Besser would have smashed the teapot. Matt, the son, at first agreed, but now he is not so sure. He invited me and Phil Campbell to come onto his weekly podcast, Improv4Humans. We talked about art, artists, and intentions, alternating with comedy sketches. Listen to the whole thing here.
People have also been asking whether Krafft has responded. Yes, on Facebook, claiming he's being censored. I also got a piece of hand-delivered snail mail that may or may not have been from him. It was a stunt: an "official" communique from the Mystic Sons of Morris Graves, handwritten on crinkled paper with its edges burned, signed by the dead artist himself. (In the place of a postmark there's a signature that could be Krafft's; I don't feel like diving down the rabbit hole to find out.)
The Mystic Sons is a jokey masons-like crew that Krafft founded and serves as "Grand Polmarch" of—whose most famous act was smashing a bunch of Chihulys once upon a time. The smashing was widely publicized as a bunch of Chihuly haters making a spectacle. But it was also meant as a smashing of idols that mocked people who would be stupid enough to smash idols, and this latest notice was presumably sent in the same spirit since it proposes that "Brother Charles Krafft be banned from Lodge #93, tarred, feathered, censored and gagged. Then tried and convicted in the facebook of public opinion to be guilty of nothing less than a crime against his own career."
I have nothing to say about this, being an unfun woman. From Krafft's web site: