What Will Happen to One of the Northwest's Preeminent Artists—Whose Nazi Imagery Has Always Been Considered Ironic—Now That His Views Are Not a Secret?
by JEN GRAVES
MAGE COURTESY OF FINE ARTS MUSEUMS OF SAN FRANCISCO
CHARLES KRAFFT’S HITLER TEAPOT "Hitler Idaho" was purchased by a Jewish collector, now dead, who later gave it to a museum in San Francisco. The curator there speculates that if the collector were still alive and knew Krafft’s current views on the Holocaust, he would smash it.
The question is hard to get your head around: If Charles Krafft is a Holocaust denier, what does that say about his revered artwork? What exactly does he believe happened, and didn't happen, during the Holocaust? How should collectors and curators—or anyone who sees his work— reassess his art in light of what he's been saying lately?
Krafft, an elder of Seattle art, is a provocateur. He makes ceramics out of human cremains, perfume bottles with swastika stoppers, wedding cakes frosted with Third Reich insignias. Up-and-coming artists continue to admire him. Leading curators include him in group shows from Bumbershoot to City Arts Fest. His work is in the permanent collections of Seattle Art Museum, Henry Art Gallery, and the Museum of Northwest Art, and it's been written about in the New Yorker , Harper's , Artforum , Juxtapoz . It's also appeared on the cover of The Stranger .
In 2009, I included his daintily painted ceramic AK 47 on a list of the 25 best works of art ever made in Seattle, and called him "the Northwest's best iconoclast." AK 47 is part of Krafft's Disasterware series, injecting the homey crafts of European ceramic painting with violence and catastrophic events. At the time of its creation, pretty much everyone thought Krafft was being ironic—poking holes in the fascist and totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century. He said as much in an interview in Salon in 2002. "For some reason, art has to be this earnest, serious, even Freudian, exploration," he told Salon . "But it doesn't necessarily have to be that at all. Art that's funny seems to get dismissed just because it is funny. But I've always had a knack and a penchant for going toward humorous irony."
Now, a decade later, some of Krafft's more than 2,000 Facebook friends would be hard-pressed to detect humor in his increasingly sinister posts. On January 14, for instance, Krafft posted, "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? 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?"
When I wrote to Krafft back in May, letting him know that a reader had asked whether he was a Holocaust denier, I added, "I suppose you don't have to answer that, but I guess I'd like to know." This wasn't the first time I'd heard the rumor, but I found it impossible to imagine that the swastikas on Krafft's work might reflect genuine spite toward Jews—i.e., that there might not be so much difference between Krafft's swastikas and Hitler's. After all, that could mean this self-taught, former Skagit Valley hippie artist was using the guise of art and irony to smuggle far-right symbols into museums, galleries, collectors' homes, and upscale decor shops like Far4 on First Avenue.
That first time I asked Krafft whether he was a Holocaust denier, he refused to answer. "Unless it has some relevance to art that I'm currently exhibiting which you would like extra information about to review or comment on in The Stranger I see no reason to answer the loaded question 'Are you a Holocaust denier?'" he wrote.
But you can find Krafft narrating his philosophy in his own voice just by doing a little googling. On July 28, 2012, he participated (not for the first time) in a podcast produced by the white nationalist website The White Network, whose tagline is "Whites Talking to Whites About White Interests." According to The White Network's "about" page, "We recognize that different races and ethnic groups cannot live together in peace on the same soil, that Whites cannot and should not tolerate being governed by non-Whites." The description goes on to say: "Jews are not White. They are obsessed with their own group's best interests, not ours. Our network is and will always remain by, for, and about the best interests of Whites, and only Whites. We are uncompromising on this point. We do not hesitate to identify and criticize Jews and will not allow them to hide amongst us."
On the podcast, Krafft says, "I believe the Holocaust is a myth," and that the myth is "being used to promote multiculturalism and globalism." He says he believes the Christian story of the sacrifice of one man (Jesus) is being trumped "by this new secular religion of the sacrifice of six million Jews. And the museums, memorials, monuments, study centers, Holocaust chairs at the universities—it's all part of the promotion of a new kind of, like I said, civil religion maybe... We're the heretics in a new religion that's being promoted and built up and being embraced by governments throughout the United States and Europe."
Krafft mentions people "sitting in prison because they dared to go up against this thing," and says, "It's not just the Jews that are promoting this thing. Yeah, it's their little myth. But we're going to be rounded up not by Jews, we're going to be rounded up, if it comes to this, by people just like ourselves." He says, "The Jews have gotten white people to turn against themselves," and that Holocaust revisionism is "a good weapon to use against the people who are trying to replace us."
Krafft, who is 65, has always had an edge to him, and it's been sharpening in recent years. "I drifted into white nationalism as a result of reading a book about a Romanian archbishop who was charged with crimes against humanity and subsequently deported from the United States," Krafft explains on the podcast. (According to the New York Times , the archbishop's past "included membership in a group called the Iron Guard, a fascist movement that was the Romanian parallel of the Nazi storm troopers in Germany.") The archbishop's story "intrigued me and I started investigating this case," Krafft says on the podcast, "and the deeper I got into it, the more I realized that the charges were trumped up. That led me to investigating the Holocaust, and I went through that into becoming aware of the writings of Kevin MacDonald and some of the intellectual leaders of what we call the white nationalist movement."
The particular topic of the podcast was whether white nationalists could be more successful as a movement if they hid their beliefs on the Holocaust or homosexuals. Krafft said he didn't think a person's sexuality should matter to white nationalists (the two others on the show disagreed), but said that the truth is more important than white nationalist strategy, and therefore he and his fellow white nationalists should not hide their beliefs about the Holocaust.
Krafft's website, from which he sells most of his artwork, does not contain any of his copious commentary about the Holocaust.