Last month, an article by Jen Graves in Seattle’s weekly paper The Stranger exposed the artist Charles Krafft as a white nationalist and Holocaust denier, and former admirers of his work are now stripping it from their walls. Krafft, who is sixty-five, has been a respected figure in the Seattle art world for decades; his work has been shown in galleries around the world and featured in Harper’s, Artforum, and The New Yorker. Since the nineties, he has been known for combining decorative ceramics with loaded political imagery—delftware plates and other objects commemorating Nazi atrocities, porcelain AK-47s and hand grenades, perfume bottles with swastika stoppers, and a teapot and other pieces in the shape of Hitler’s head. In the past, many art collectors and curators had interpreted this work as a critique of bigoted and totalitarian ideologies. Now, the revelations about Krafft’s repugnant personal opinions have cast his work in a new light, and brought up knotty questions about how an artist’s intent should influence our evaluation of his work. We have precedents for heinous personal beliefs coinciding with creative brilliance (Ezra Pound, Richard Wagner), and bigotry embodied in works of great formal achievement (“The Birth of a Nation,” “Triumph of the Will”), but this is an unusual case of an artist’s ideological extremism so suddenly exposed, and so plainly relevant to his art.
In recent articles discussing Krafft’s Holocaust denial, one of the main ideas gaining traction is that he has been duping the art world by passing off as ironic Nazi imagery that was, in reality, intended as homage or propaganda. Graves, who is the Stranger’s art critic and, in 2009, featured Krafft’s ceramic AK-47 on a list of the best works of art ever made in Seattle, raised the possibility that Krafft had been “using the guise of art and irony to smuggle far-right symbols into museums, galleries, collectors’ homes, and upscale decor shops,” and wrote that, according to old friends of Krafft, he has “laughed in private at the liberal-leaning art establishment he’s fooled with his art.” An article on the blog The Weeklings, re-published at Salon under the headline “We Let Charles Krafft Fool Us,” asked, “If Charles Krafft…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?”
Read the whole article at the New Yorker.