In case you have not heard, the ceramic artist Charles Krafft was outed as a Holocaust denier and as a white nationalist by The Stranger, in March of this year. I have some questions about this, and maybe you do as well. Oh, I will not be showing images of Krafft’s work, as I never really liked it, and now find it as sad and bad as his beliefs. You know how to do a search, so check it out if you are curious.
My instant, gut reaction in hearing about Krafft’s beliefs was anger which is very similar to the reaction I used to have at punk/hardcore shows in the 1980’s & 90’s when there were neo-nazis present. Those knuckleheads would not stop the show and would not pick fights with me specifically, but the fact that they were there, in my face, spewing racist rhetoric and picking fights with kids they could easily beat up was enough to piss me off. They were part of my scene, and I resented their presence. Maybe you have not had that experience, so how about this: do you have a relative who is a bigot? You know you will see him at every holiday, and would just hope he finally came around to your way of non-racist thinking about, say, anything. He is easy to make small talk with, but you would not invite him to your birthday party, as he might cause a scene with your real friends. As an artist working in a relative small, highly supportive community, the ceramics field and those who occupy it are for me like an extended family and thus by extension Krafft is part of my family although I have never met him. He was a well respected artist, and I have seen his work in exhibitions here and there for years. But now it turns out he is my racist uncle. Or the nazi showing up at the hardcore show.
I have contacted many of you- artists, collectors, and curators- asking your thoughts about Krafft. Most of us are stumped as to a response. Some have said they feel like they were fooled for many years, that they misinterpreted the work possibly. Some told me to just ignore him and Krafft will go away quietly. Some said writing this reaction piece would only help further Krafft’s cause/message.
You know what? Fuck that.
The ceramics scene is my scene. And this guy is a racist asshole who should not be given a platform to spew his bigoted rhetoric, such as having him in a group exhibition, or inviting him to lecture/demo at your college, or giving him public grant money. Luckily, he is open about his beliefs on Facebook. He posts images and links on his FB page of racist spewing, like minded people- again, at least he is open about his beliefs. We now know who and what we are dealing with.
Here are some of the beliefs he holds:
a) In an interview on The White Network, Krafft states, in these exact words, “ I believe the Holocaust is a myth.” He has since then, when talking with Studio 360, changed that bold statement, saying now he is a Holocaust “skeptic”, whatever that means.
b) On Facebook on January 14, for instance, Krafft posted, "Why amongst the monuments glorifying the history of this nation in Washington DC is there a museum of horrors dedicated to people who never lived, fought, or died here? The USHMM [United States Holocaust Memorial Museum] was erected before there was ever a monument to the 465,000 Americans who died in WWII. And no one did enough to save the Jews of Europe?"
c) From the Stranger article: “To clarify his views, last week I asked Krafft over e-mail, "Do you believe Hitler's regime systematically murdered millions of Jews?”
Krafft wrote back, "I don't doubt that Hitler's regime killed a lot of Jews in WWII, but I don't believe they were ever frog marched into homicidal gas chambers and dispatched. I think between 700,000–1.2 million Jews died of disease, starvation, overwork, reprisals for partisan attacks, allied bombing, and natural causes during the war."
d) “Yes, for sure. In the 50s in America, during the hunt for communism, I believe the commies were subverting us. McCarthy has been demonised, but he was onto something. So it's re-evaluation, not denial, then. I don’t think there should be taboos in looking. I think some of the evidence is wrong, but we can't look into it as you always get some organized Jewry telling you you're hurting their feelings.
In my view, historical truth trumps hurt feelings of Jews. Everyone gets hurt feelings, get over it.”
e) On the Studio 360 interview, talking about his beliefs about the Holocaust: “I’m not saying its forever. I could change my mind about it. I am willing to be convinced otherwise.” Convinced by whom is my question, since most every scholar since WWII agrees the Holocaust took place.
My first question is: should you, or anyone, care about the personal beliefs of an artist? And do those beliefs change the way an artist’s work is viewed and interpreted? For me, I can not separate the artist’s work from the person. They are one in the same. Krafft’s work will never be looked at in the same way now that I know what he is. But I am not a gallery owner or museum curator who selects artists and work for exhibition and steers collectors to what work to buy and thereby which artists to support.
I think Krafft should own up to these beliefs and be the white nationalist he sounds like. Hell, I even have a tattoo artist willing to tattoo a swastika or “White Pride” on him, in a visible area, for free. But in the interviews I have listened to and read, Krafft whines about how his beliefs (and being outed as having them) are affecting his sales, and his ability to apply and get residencies and grants. But he has opened up a totally new market- the white nationalist market! There must be an upcoming convention that would like to show some art? Or do some new designs for the kkk?
I find it convenient he claims these beliefs are recent, and he did not think like that when he made the swastika-bearing work, or the Hitler teapots. Kind of like the statute of limitations has ran out and a crook is admitting to his crimes. Again- own it CK!
Krafft also talks about the worst part of being outed- it is affecting his social life. Friends are un-friending him on social media sites, and he is not invited to the same cocktail parties. He is deluded enough to think his art friends think like him, or would if they would just listen to the same racist people he seems to admire (again, just going by his Facebook “likes”).
So my final questions:
Should we – the art community- care? And what is to be done?
Should Krafft be publicly tarred and feathered?
Is Krafft to be ignored? If he can deny the Holocaust, we can deny him? Or is ignoring him like ignoring the leak in the garage roof- you know you need to fix it, it will only get worse. And ignoring is accepting, and this might lead students to think it is ok to be a racist artist, as you will be controversial, and, thus popular, just like CK.
Should museums put his work on a shelf in their archives? To galleries and museums: Please do not try to profit from the controversy. Krafft’s work should now be ignored, at least until he proves he is changed back to the rational, ironic person he and his friends claim he once was.
What does the collector do now? Do you really want Hitler’s head or swastika-emblazoned clay objects in your living room, esp. knowing it might be a hero worship piece to its’ maker? And who wants to see that image every day? Do we have a book burning to cleanse the village of this filth? Maybe get Yoko Ono to smash the work with a hammer?
I think Krafft needs to be talked about, not ignored. To me, silence=acceptance. Maybe our racist uncle can come around to a rational way of thought about the Holocaust and refute his white nationalist beliefs. Only then should he be invited back to our ceramics family.
Thanks for your time.
Note: The purpose of the Objective Clay blog is to provide an open and uncensored platform for its members to express individual ideas to the broader clay community. All content is developed and written by individual OC members.