Thursday, June 11, 2009

Artist Filled with Hate : And Something to Know about Galleries

The Huffington Post (h/t Ondine) reports that James Von Brunn, the suspect in yesterday's mindless shooting of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in DC, was also an artist. You can see an example of one his paintings here.

Von Brunn applied to have his art shown at the Troika Gallery in Easton, Md., around the time the gallery opened about 12 years ago, two of the owners, Laura Era and Jennifer Wharton, told The Associated Press. They said they turned him down because it was not up to their quality and that made Von Brunn angry.

"He stomped out," Wharton said. "You don't normally get that reaction from artists."

They say his work was not strange or violent, but the artists they show have many years of professional experience.

Era and Wharton said they had heard that Von Brunn had been in jail because of his political beliefs and knew that he had prejudices. They did not feel comfortable around him, but said they didn't want to make him an enemy.

One time Von Brunn arrived at the gallery livid because he had just seen a mixed race couple getting married at the garden of the historical society nearby, Era and Wharton said.

Von Brunn was not around for years, but turned up a year or two ago. He did not spend as much time at their gallery as before and they did not encourage him to, the women said.

They said Von Brunn's work depicted images such as horses and buffalo in the American West or an eagle with the U.S. flag.

The askart.com website with the image noted above has a discussion board which lit up when news came out that von Brunn was the suspect. Apparently like attracts like. I was going to share a snippet of the vile discussion there, but actually some of it is so repulsive, I would hate for searches of quotes posted here to attract the sort of folks who offered it there.

The one art-world-related quote from the thread I will post, though, was this:
From his painting, evidently Von Brunn is an accomplished artist. His work is good enough to be shown in art galleries.
From the one example linked to above (admittedly a poorly shot image), I would personally say that Von Brunn is slightly above adequate at representation (even if the composition shouts "Cuckoo for Coco Puffs" IMHO), which might pass for "accomplished" in some people's books, but that is actually somewhat besides the point, with regards to the conclusion this writer draws from his/her assessment of it. The apparently widespread belief that gallery shows (and the implication seems to be that one gallery is as good as another here) are somehow the birthright of any adequate artists is very frustrating as a dealer. We often encounter it in explaining why we don't wish to work with an artist. "But this is good work...why don't you want to show it?"

First and foremost, there is nothing that obligates a gallery to work with an artist just because they can paint or draw or whatever. Let me make this really clear (and note that I assume 90% of the readership here knows this already, but our discusssions do prompt the occasional email from folks who don't seem to): whether someone should be shown in a given art gallery is far more complicated than whether they're adequate illustrators. The desire on the part of a gallery to work with an artist has two components: their belief that the artist is a good match for their gallery (in terms of quality, dialog, and personality) and their belief that their clientele should purchase this artist's work. It's not a birthright on any account. Approaching getting a gallery as if it were a birthright is doomed to fail.

When artists ask me what they need to do to get a gallery I always answer "make amazing art" and "network." With regards to the second bit of advice, it's important to know that this is a business of relationships, and the sort of things that make a relationship work well are common interests and mutual respect. We all know of "difficult" artists whose work is so good that galleries tolerate their "passionate" behaviors, but the notion that such behavior is the birthright of anyone who can render a convincing likeness is simply wrong. To get away with exhibiting the level of disrespect shown by stomping out of a gallery, you had better be the next Jackson Pollock. And I don't just mean in your own mind.

Even then, and actually more importantly, the most amazing artist of this generation will NOT be a good match for probably 80% of the galleries out there. Most contemporary galleries take a point of view or focus on a particular dialog or aspect of the total art world. They are not one-size-fits-all.

To be fair, the implication of the assertion "His work is good enough to be shown in art galleries" might be more along the lines of "I've seen plenty of work at that level or worse in galleries" and nothing more. Still, coupled with the way Von Brunn stomped out of the Maryland gallery who turned him down, I thought it made sense to take advantage of this example to flesh out the subtlties of how this works in real life.

As for Von Brunn, if he's guilty, I trust he'll join another failed, evil artist better known for his hatred in a very special place in Hell.

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27 Comments:

Blogger prolonged hacking and gnawing said...

Good post, Ed. "Good enough to be shown" is an interesting phrase as it implies....competence. And competent enough to be shown, to the average person, might mean it SHOULD be shown. The missing link of that equation is that dealers and curators are not looking for competence, they're looking for that thing way beyond competence. The thing that truly is a unique, subjective iteration. I'm also glad you bolded the word "personality." Competent art by a hostile sociopath would be a longshot to get gallery representation.

6/11/2009 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Chucklehead here makes Hitler look like Cezanne. Compare the foreground to the Fragonard in the NGA that it was cribbed from and you'll see how painfully deficient it is. Wretched man, wretched painter.

6/11/2009 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nice link, Franklin. Thanks.

The deficient copying and puzzling collage of Fragonard and Picasso paintings (OK, so both originals depict young women reading, and...???) are one thing, but what freaked me out is the addition of the crucifix. Put it all together and it's simply surreal without being obviously critical or even interestingly absurd...just kind of creepy.

6/11/2009 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet there are alot of monied wingnuts out there who will be buying his paintings now just for the bragging rights of owning something from a 'real American'. Time to just hang your head and cry, especially for the family of the slain security guard.

---ondine nyc

6/11/2009 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

John Wayne Gacy sold his clown paintings from prison before he was executed for murdering and raping 33 boys. We should all be suspicious when creativity, a human's ability and/or desire to make something, is spoken about in terms of morality. Bad people make good art. Good people make bad art. And any and all combinations in between. The fact that this aryan nation whack job made stuff is completely irrelevant when discussing his crimes. But people will take the fact that he was a Sunday painter and a sociopath, and either attack art or creativity, or attach an undeserved value to the art. His art would have slid off the cliff into oblivion in any other context. Now it is the art of that guy who killed people. It is the value system that gets built around the art made by sociopaths that should really be examined.

6/11/2009 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" His art would have slid off the cliff into oblivion in any other context. Now it is the art of that guy who killed people. "

I dont believe that his art or him will ever have any merit, it will all still slip into oblivion. Hitler is famous for his crimes agains humanity, and noone attacks art or creativity because he was a painter. In fact most people dont even know he was a painter. In a decade or so people will not even remember this guys name, let alone the fact that he made pictures.

I see no affect this can possibly have on the art world or other artists, good or bad.

6/11/2009 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

I don't see the art made by the gazillion other mediocrities out there inspiring a discussion on an art blog that is read by over a million people a day, so I beg to differ anonymous. This blog discussion will be around for a long long time on the Internet in the EW blog archives and all the other discussions it has inspired across the blogosphere will be as well. I think we look at history differently.

6/11/2009 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

"art world or other artists..."

One last thing anonymous...My comment didn't really have anything to do with the small enclave known as the art world or artists for that matter. It had to do with how non artists and non members of the art world, you know, a majority of humanity, will place value on a work of art, or pay more attention to it, just because it was made by a murderer. The Chapman Brothers recently brought Hitler's paintings back into the limelight so I am not convinced that the world has completely forgotten about the fuhrer's creative output. Did you ever see the film Art School Confidential? A fine arts major who has good technical skills and makes representational art gets slammed by his classmates and professor because his art isn't contemporary enough. By the end of the film the student is in trouble with the law and all of a sudden he is the cat's meow. The film is filled with stereotypes which limit its overall aesthetic value but for me it made some good points about the status of art and artists in the world. In other words, notoriety itself, adds value to works of art no matter how much lasting historical value the work will have.

Also the opposite is true. Saying that the killer's creative output was really bad or amateurish doesn't give someone the moral high ground. My original point had to do with the fact that the art made by this killer was being discussed to begin with. Notice we aren't talking about his rock or stamp collection.

6/11/2009 05:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A million readers a day? Wow!

6/11/2009 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

A million readers a day?

If you take off a few of those pesky zeros at the end, perhaps... ;-)

6/12/2009 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/12/2009 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't think so...I think all the comments got posted, if slightly out of order (my iPhone seems to post some as expected and others intermittently)...I'm working on figuring that out.

6/12/2009 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

Okay how about tens of thousands of people a week? Is that more accurate? I guess these stats are public but I don't have the time or patience to verify them.

6/12/2009 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you counted each character read by each reader, I'm sure you'd hit a million!

6/12/2009 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Why is this even worth talking about?

He was 88 years old, a geezer with a gun.

What if he had been a plumber? Would they collect his pipes?

It's a non-event.

My condolences to the victims family

6/12/2009 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George asked, "Why is this even worth talking about?"

The Romantic myth about the artist being a higher form of life than other human beings is not dead yet (despite Caravaggio, Hitler and all we know about Picasshole). Incidents like this should serve to put the lie to that myth.

Eric Gelber asked, "... how about tens of thousands of people a week?"

My guess is 5,838 visits per week, on average. Do I win anything?

6/12/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

My guess is 5,838 visits per week, on average

I've been trying to sort that out, myself. Someone has told me that the hit counters we've all relied on for a number of years are no longer accurate indications of readership because they don't count those reading via rss feeds.

Does anyone know how you can count rss feed readers?

6/12/2009 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

Tom is definitely on to something. The myth that art is a window into the artist's inner workings, their subjectivity, the magical key to their soul, propels this morbid fascination with the art of sociopaths. Guess what? High school boys LOVE to read books about Hitler. They can't contextualize the historical Hitler, but the uniforms, the architecture, the violence and power and pageantry draw them in. Creativity in and of itself has no moral value, even though many artists still romanticize the act of making.

6/12/2009 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Tom, FYI, there are roughly 16,000 homicides annually in the US. How many were by artists?

The analogy that this somehow adds to, or detracts from, a so called "romantic myth" about the artist is bull. The killer was 88 years old which now taints all geriatrics with the stigma of violence? He was a racist fanatic, is this factor more or less important than being an artist? or a plumber, or a taxi driver?

Further, I suggest that the artists mythic status in the culture, romantic or not, has been there since the shamans in the caves. While the artwork remains as the residue of the artists activities, the culture confers mythic status onto the artist because it is something it needs. "Romantic myth" is one way of interpreting this but says more about the observer than what s observed.

6/12/2009 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

George first off, I disagree with just about everything you say on this blog. Secondly, I know that you can't verify statements like, "I suggest that the artists mythic status in the culture, romantic or not, has been there since the shamans in the caves." or this "While the artwork remains as the residue of the artists activities, the culture confers mythic status onto the artist because it is something it needs. "Romantic myth" is one way of interpreting this but says more about the observer than what s observed." So you are reducing the debate to a power play, dueling cocks, etc., and I have no interest in doing this with you. So what is your point, except to be bitchy and argumentative? You choose to replace my conjecture with your own conjecture, which is just as flimsy and unverifiable. I stand by the points I made. If you don't think that the public image of the artist involves these notions of dysfunctional personality and various other pathologies that is your choice. Please don't pretend that your version of the story is objective or some such nonsense.

6/12/2009 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

eric, I was responding to Tom, not you. FWIW, you're wrong.

6/12/2009 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

I think I have clearly indicated 'what it is worth.' Time to move on I suppose.

6/12/2009 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George asked, "... 16,000 homicides annually in the US. How many were by artists?"

At least one.

6/12/2009 08:40:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Some thoughts about the von Brunn painting on the AskART site ...

Von Brunn is categorized as a Realist, and his painting strikes me as a visual equivalent of statements that can be found on the wackier pro-Realist/anti-Modernist websites.

I think his painting is an attempt to show the superiority of Realism. The addition of a Christian cross to the realistic foreground is probably meant to show Divine approval of Realism. Or the superiority of traditional Christian-Western civilization to the Modernism that was, supposedly, begun and run by decadent Eastern Jews. (Yet another twisted use of Christian symbolism by a White Supremacist.)

As an argument for the superiority of Realism, however, the painting fails because the Picasso background overpowers the Fragonard foreground.

The painting also presents a false juxtaposition because - on the deepest level - there is no conflict between the Fragonard and the Picasso.

6/13/2009 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Worth a read is The Obama Haters’ Silent Enablers by Frank Rich in the NYT.

Scanning the readers comments on the Huffington Post was a curious exercise. It appears that the Right wingers want to dissociate themselves from Von Brunn by labeling as a member of the "far left."

A friend told me this was common now, but it's the first time I've seen it. This whole thing is getting creepy

6/15/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Gelber said...

The fact that psycho Bill O'Reilly can call an abortion doctor, a doctor who saved countless women's lives, a nazi and child killer on tv in front of millions of viewers, and then remain determinedly blameless when the doctor is murdered, says it all. And to add insult to injury, O'Reilly blames the far left, when his own culpability is mentioned. When you keep spewing sparks of hate something is bound to catch on fire.

6/15/2009 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

Dear Edward
congratulations for your publication.
Is never a bad time for good books.
The reason I left you a note this time is, since the AAF2009 a lot of good things besides a gallery that found me. I'll having an art collector on the weekend here in my house, he wants to by at least 6 of my pieces. one of them to donate to a museum of his choice. I found out he was following my work and a fan.
I'm still not knowing what's going on, I'm trill with the whole thing and making one step at time.

Carlos

6/17/2009 11:52:00 AM  

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