The Man Behind The Curtain

CHARLES WING KRAFFT, the self-taught painter turned postmodern ceramicist, is famous for his ‘Disasterware’ collection, a term he coined for the melding of violent, often Fascist imagery with tawdry vessels. He’s fashioned everything from ceramic grenades with bio-weapons decaled in antiquated blue to perfume bottles appliquéd with swastikas. Krafft’s work has been featured in prominent news outlets such as Harpers and The New Yorker and is on permanent display at the Seattle Art Museum. He’s received endowments from the Soros Foundation and the NEA. Enthusiasts celebrate, or at least used to celebrate, what they believed to be Krafft’s insidious sense of irony that took a darkly comedic take on twentieth-century disasters, not to mention a vicious stand against political iconography in all forms. In 2009, art critic Jen Graves of The Stranger featured Krafft’s ceramic AK 47 on the magazine’s cover, admittedly duping herself concerning the artist’s perceived identity as an ‘iconoclast.’

It wasn’t until recently, however, that Krafft’s ugly allegiances bubbled to the surface, mostly discovered via Facebook rants, podcasts, and interviews with some of his close friends. Priscilla Frank at the Huffington Post linked to a particularly condemning podcast on The White Network, a site that officially hosts “Whites Talking To Whites About White Interests.” On July 28, 2012, Krafft admitted on air, “I believe the Holocaust is a myth.” He then proceeded to list more of his beliefs about the downtrodden state of white identity and the Jewish threat. You can listen to it here, if you’d like, though be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Then came an article by art critic Jen Graves in The Stranger, “Charles Krafft Is a White Nationalist Who Believes the Holocaust Is a Deliberately Exaggerated Myth.” Graves points out that many of Krafft’s closest friends have denounced him in recent months for being a bigot. For example, Fred Owens posted a comment on the artist’s Facebook page in January ousting him as an anti-Semite with conspiratorial views ranging from Protocols theories to something you’d find on Stormfront. Krafft responded to Owen’s accusations of bigotry with comments such as “Why amongst the monuments glorifying the history of this nation in Wash DC is there a museum of horrors dedicated to people who never lived, fought, or died here?”* He also goes on to post links to Holocaust Denier Paul Eisen and youtube videos dealing with Jewish conspiracies during the Opium Wars. He doesn’t have much more to hide, it seems, for there’s a lot more where that came from.

After Graves’ story dropped this bombshell on the art world, the question lingered: How could we (his fans) not have known? Jillian Steinhauer on the website Hyperallergic covered multiple reactions to Krafft’s outing as a bigot, from white nationalists avowing that Krafft had become the victim of a Jewish media smear campaign, to others angry over the hipster-centric lust for irony that led to the West Coast arts community shunning what should have been the obvious. Steinhauer takes the following quote from Seattle blogger Clark Humphrey on the subject of consumer awareness: “Like many participants in and observers of the Seattle visual-art scene, I’ve long known about Krafft’s open admiration for neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionist pseudo-scholars. He didn’t keep his views secret. They just hadn’t been written about in the local arts media, prior to Graves’ article.”

 

Clark wasn’t the only one to speak up on the subject. The aforementioned Fred Owens maintains that the artist had admittedly practiced a quiet, Anglican-style anti-Semitism for many years, writing the following to Graves in an email: We should “not just blame Charlie for this but the entire arts community of Seattle which has proven to be soft-headed. As I said when I wrote about this, it would never happen in Brooklyn or Boston—people would just kick his ass down the block. But Seattle has a misguided kind of false tolerance going on here, so there is a lesson for all of us in this.”

Owen’s email, in all its terse wisdom, doesn’t necessarily need to be confined to the Seattle art scene. If Krafft was an avowed neo-Nazi for years, why is it that no one bothered to report on what may have very well been an obvious link between his personal views and his iconography? An even more compelling a question: why is it that in the art world (which includes everything from literature to film) we are so bent on maintaining separation between creation and creator?

In Women, Charles Bukowski refers to the ethereal element of creative expression as the ‘godhead,’ implying a purity of consciousness that exists above the level of the creator himself in a time when he or she is taken by inspiration. A similar sentiment is echoed in MFA programs throughout the nation, postulating that even if artists are violent, sexist, predatory, racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic, that their work rises above the mortal realm, and generally shouldn’t be talked about in the context of personal fault. Sometimes, the discourse takes on the dimensions of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as if we don’t have a right to breach the sacred barrier between mind and meld. Of course, if an artist, such as Krafft, is openly exposed as a bigot, his reputation will be devalued in the mainstream, but that was because Jen Graves was brave enough, or outraged enough, to expose it. Many may have been content averting their noses from the stink emanating from the gallery walls.

There is both reason and argument to art standing on its own. A successful sculpture, novel, painting, or film is less effective when you know the daily habits of the man behind the curtain. But it does make one wonder what secrets are harbored by what we consider our most brilliant minds.

 

 

This weekend Oz the Great and Powerful hits the screens, providing another reimagining of the original Wizard of Oz in the vein of Gregory McGuire’s Wicked. Directed by Sam Raimi, himself a Jew, and chock-full of multicultural themes, little is remembered of the creator of the saga himself, L. Frank Baum. Baum, born into a devout Methodist family with German roots, was a fierce advocate for the genocide of Native Americans. Only days after the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, in fact, Baum penned an article for the newspaper he owned titled, “Why not Annhilation?” Here’s a quote from the article: “Wipe these untamed and untamable creatures off the face of the Earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands.” Apart from his genocidal views towards Native Americans, Baum also ascribed to a belief system known as Theosophy later in life, which was Aryan-centric and voiced a strong aversion to Jewish identity. And yet, from our constant re-imaginings and evolutions as a society, Oz has been taken out of the bigot’s hands entirely, becoming a poster child for diversity, acceptance, and even elements of anti-imperialism. The acting roster is populated by Jews and blacks, and preaches, if ineffectively, a message of cross-cultural understanding.

In this day and age, there aren’t as many excuses for being ignorant. There never really were to begin with, but in some ways, even if it’s simple to be racist, sexist, or homophobic in a quiet, wink-wink fashion in the 21st century, it’s only when someone is put on a microphone that he or she is condemned. Whose hateful whispers, then, are we still ignoring? Whose hate is still flying beneath the radar of popular consumption? Maybe we need to stop turning our heads. Maybe we need to listen closer. If Charles Krafft, a veritable chair nominee for KKK Grand Wizard, is capable of fooling thousands into thinking him a forward-thinking genius, who else are we currently paying, or worshiping, to fill us with surreptitious hatred?

 

*The quote posted originally “Yeah it must be tough for jewbastards and their whores to speak freely in the Jew S.A.” albeit taken from a Facebook post of Krafft’s, seems to have been quoting another Facebook user, and not the artist himself. Sattin laments this inaccuracy. Yet it does not change the charge at hand, as one can observe from the new quote/links above, and the many more that exist on Krafft’s Facebook account.

Samuel Sattin

About Samuel Sattin

Samuel Sattin (@samuelsattin)is the author of League of Somebodies, a debut novel about one family’s efforts to create the world’s first superhero. (Spoiler: It doesn’t go so well.) Imagine The Doom Patrol cross-pollinated with Philip Roth and then remixed by Mel Brooks. The novel is currently available in paperback from Dark Coast Press; Audible released the audiobook, performed by John Keating, earlier in 2013. Sattin is 31 years-old and lives in Oakland with his wife. His work has appeared in Salon, io9, Kotaku, and The Good Men Project. He’s currently a contributing editor at The Weeklings.
This entry was posted in Popular Culture, The Arts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Man Behind The Curtain

  1. JohnDrabble says:

    You ask “Whose hateful whispers, then, are we still ignoring?” How about the guy who wrote this in a pro-Iraq war essay? (Click on the link to learn the author)

    “The War on Iraq will make it clear to our friends and enemies in the Middle East (and elsewhere) that we mean business: Free your people, reform your societies, liberalize, and democratize… or we’re going to come over there, remove you from power, free your people, and reform your societies for ourselves. ”

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=12237

  2. This is a a terrific examination, Samuel. Thoroughly engrossing.

    The fascinating difference between Baum and Krafft is that the former’s OZ books are quite separate from his politics; the man can be left behind. Krafft’s political and social views are bound in, to and on the images he created. Krafft’s work, perceived as ironic, makes fools of those who thought so.

    Recently a friend said to me about The Armory Show: “I couldn’t tell if the trash bin with the soda cans in it was functional or art.”

    • Samuel Sattin Sam says:

      Great point about Baum, Tom. And thank you so much for the compliment. On a personal level, however, I’m not sure I believe that a man’s politics can be altogether separate from his art. It’s possible, but I still think that there may an element to his original books that are tinged, if not directly influenced, by his thoughts and beliefs. I just don’t know if that’s feasible psychologically. It’s a question I still wrestle with, whether or not I buy Bukowski’s concept of the godhead. Thank you again, however. I truly appreciate your thoughts.

      • Sam – I agree with you about the man and the artist being linked. For the most part, I don’t believe the godhead theory. I may not have been clear about my point which is that readers have dislodged Baum’s beliefs from his writings. Since it is possible to read the Oz books without seeing Baum’s politics, the artist is separated from his politics by the audience. With Krafft, however, the politics are so blatant it is hard to believe it has not been recognized until now.

        • Samuel Sattin Samuel Sattin says:

          Ah okay, I see what you’re saying and agree. It’s an important element to distinguish for sure. Thanks, Tom!

  3. Jacob Zwann says:

    Sounds like the beginnings of a witch hunt (way to keep the ball rolling JohnDrabble). Lets hunt down all the artists and journalists with reprehensible (in our opinion) political views. Kraffts’ greatest irony seems to be that people thought his art was ironic.

    • John Drabble says:

      Providing a link to someone’s writing is hardly a witch hunt. You seem to want to give the author a pass because this piece of writing doesn’t gel with the brand he has so carefully developed.

  4. Jacob Zwann says:

    But the link is beside the point. It was mainly your way of identifying the author. It is your accusation in response to your quote from the article “Whose hateful whispers, then, are we still ignoring?” The accusation being that the authors hidden or ignored views are comparable to Kraffts, and it is that which begins a witch hunt.

    Personally, I don’t know Savage’s work or his “brand”, but I object to the insinuation and the smear. I also object to Sattin’s assertions that we should judge art by the artist’s political views. That was the mistake made in the first place when people thought Krafft’s art was ironic. People assumed he was “one of us.” But now they see him as “the Other.” Feel free to condemn the political views if you like, but don’t use them to censor the art.

    • Samuel Sattin Sam says:

      Interesting thoughts. I don’t think the intention was ever to advocate for censorship. If anything, I sternly believe that even the most revolting idiocy should be protected under writ of law. What I find interesting about this is how we, WE, are so lustily willing to extol artists for what we perceive them to be, while ignoring what they really are. It’s not a call for censorship, a witch hunt, or anything of the sort. It’s rather a call to examine our own hyper-propensity towards putting art on a pedestal without thinking about what it is we’re really endorsing.

  5. Charles Krafft says:

    Samuel Sattin writes… “Krafft responded to Owen’s accusations of bigotry with comments such as ‘Yeah it must be tough for jewbastards and their whores to speak freely in the Jew S.A.'” Proffer proof that I wrote that, or retract the statement. If you don’t I will take legal action.

    • Samuel Sattin Samuel Sattin says:

      Charlie! Nice of you to drop by. Just went ahead and retracted the quote (with an explanation above) and will contact Salon with the same request. I just went ahead and replaced it with another one of your lovely expressions of Holocaust denial, which I took screenshots of, just FYI. Thing is, Charlie, your remarks are all so generally insidious, that the one you quoted one of the responses to Fred Owen’s emails seemed completely in character. I lament the inaccuracy, but not the thrust of my article, which is about as condemning as I believe it should be. Cheers!

  6. Pingback: How Did Millions of Fans Not Know Charles Wing Krafft Was a White Supremacist? — The Good Men Project

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>