January 18, 2014 by Walden3

    By Chloe Sevigny
    I live in Manhattan, which for the last sixty years has pretty much ruled the art world. Growing up in Darien, Connecticut, I often cut class and drove into The City to inhale this hive of reckless and boundless energy – New York was a magnet that pulled me into its orbit and dazzled me with its sheer power and creativity and total rejection of conventional, conservative, uptight places like Darien. It didn’t matter if it was skater culture or graffiti art or fashion or film – it was all happening simultaneously and endlessly interwoven. New York was  the epicenter for any kid wanting change or opportunity, any kid that didn’t fit in, or wanted to make art or do anything creative. New York City was a giant vacuum cleaner that sucked up artists from all over the place – not just New England, but all across the country. It’s where the term ‘brain drain’ originated.  That was what was so great about it.  Our island was the creative engine of the universe and no city, in America or anywhere else, even came close to competing.
    Sure, Seattle was the home to Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, but it never really popped up on my radar as a creative place, as a place I wanted to visit. I think New Yorkers had this basic sense of Seattle – of Starbucks and Microsoft and the birthplace of grunge music, but it just wasn’t on my top 10 list, or top 100 list for that matter, when you dreamt up all the places in the world that you want to go. And I don’t think that I was alone; it lacked glamour and industry and no one in New York was talking about it, or going there – we were the city that drained other cities of their talent. I state this as what I believe to be a common East Coast impression and the excuse why I never stepped foot in Seattle until the summer of 2007.
    In the spring of 2013 I was asked to play the character Alexandra on Portlandia and did spend a lot of time shuffling back and forth between coasts. Of course I’d read a lot about what was happening in Seattle and how effective Walden Three was in minting new art careers,  and new ways of looking at art – heck I even bought a piece of Gala Bent’s online (which I love and adore), but I remained unconvinced that it was giving New York a run for its money. I did after all live in Manhattan – the center of it all – and there is a bit of snobbery in that, justified or not, true or false – we were number one and who really cares what city is in second place.
    Kristi Turnquist came up to me on a Friday morning and told me to pack an overnight bag. We had the weekend off from filming and she and Carrie Brownstein were making the three hour trip up to Seattle for the opening of the Harold Washington exhibit at Walden Three. Considering they were my Portland girl posse, I packed without hesitation and we were on the road by noon. I had heard a lot about Walden Three, but I still expected a dank warehouse filled with flannel shirts, beards and art made out of recycled building material and dirt – made by people who were sincere and probably very nice, but ultimately just couldn’t make it in New York.
    When we were parking the car I bumped into Nicki Minaj. “What are the chances I would bump into you here!”  She rolled her eyes, put one hand on her hip and said, “Girl, what are YOU doing here? I’m meeting your boyfriend – oops, exboyfriend. Making a movie, you know.”  I gulped hard, squinted my eyes at her, but she just destroyed me with her quadrillion dollar smile. “Shit.” And we laughed, locked arms and ran across the street.
    We all checked in to the hotel, threw our bags on the bed and walked next door to Walden Three. Nicki hadn’t been inside yet either, and when we passed through the entry and discovered the Stylist Station, Nicki and I dug through tubs of old vintage clothing, bolts of fabric, racks of ties and hats and wigs. We met Mark Mitchell and Mandy Greer who were in charge of the wardrobe/costuming station that day (and totally great in every way) and we just kinda got stuck. Kristi and Carrie headed in without much fuss (Kristi grabbed a pair of leather studded earmuffs and Carrie found a hot pink cashmere scarf), but Nicki and I dove in head first – completely ditching what we had on and making our new costumes with matching denim jumpsuits (cut off mid-thigh) , these felt neck/shoulder pieces with matching plastic dandelion broaches, sheer gloves made from raw silk (that Mark made for us) and yarn purse/flashlight things that Mandy whipped up (that I still wear). Anyways, we bonded, stayed in the Stylist Station as their new volunteers, dressing, stitching and transforming visitors into major fashion victims. And on that front line, preparing people for the Walden Three stage (it was after all a movie set) we quickly discovered that this place was not some rink-dink operation. Walden Three was a machine – a machine equipped with its own artist-sized vacuum cleaner and high-powered people magnets.
    At some point I had to stop saying “What are you doing here?” There were so many familiar faces – New York City faces – that I felt, er, um – I felt at home. At some point I began making a list of all the New Yorkers streaming in off the street. Alaina Stamatis, Maya Hayuk, Jesse Hlebo, Olivier Rousteing and Katie Ermilio. Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw, Julia Kaganskiy, Lindsay Howard, Jayson Musson and Zach Lieberman, Elizabeth Peyton, Todd Haynes, Ron English, Yui Kugimiya, Legacy Russell, Joe Ahearn and Kenny Scharf. What was  going on? It was crazy. And there was this collective sheepish blushing going on, like we were all traitors, like we were embarrassed, bumping into each other at a sex shop or an AA meeting. What were all these New Yorkers doing in Seattle? Was this some fluke, some accident that so much East Coast creative talent was in Seattle, on the same day, in the same place, or was Walden Three emitting the same magnetism that drew us all to New York in the first place? When Nicki and I finally left the Stylist Station and walked into the upper galleries, there was Harmony Korine and James Franco sitting on the floor cross legged, excited and talking fast and hushed. I approached the two and said, “What are you two doing here?” and they responded in unison, “Nothing” meaning exactly something (turns out Franco and Nicki are both starring in Harmony’s new picture tentatively titled “3.1428”) and looking like two kids caught with a dirty magazine in their lap.
    I met with Walden 3 executive director Greg Lundgren in the Dial on November 12th to ask him what all the fuss is about.
    SEVIGNY: You know I grew up about an hour and a half from Walden Pond? It seems like a million years ago but I used to have a Volkswagon bus and we’d drive out there in high school and smoke pot and look around for Thoreau’s cabin. We never did find it, but I had some good times out there. It was a beautiful place. I don’t know if it’s a sore subject, with the Jack Daws controversy… Disaster? Is it fair to call it a disaster? Maybe that is the wrong way to start off the interview. I think maybe an easier question would be if you believe in reincarnation. That’s kind of what it all hinges on. Is Jacques Henri a crazy pants or do you think he’s the real deal?
    LUNDGREN: Reincarnation is the easy question? Hmm. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve met him and he seems to know an awful lot about Thoreau’s private life. And besides pulling active railroad tracks up for building materials, I think Jack is a good judge of character. I think reincarnation is in the same camp as ghosts and aliens and god. I want to believe, I know that humans are only seeing a little fraction of the whole picture, but I don’t have any personal  experience to make me convinced that these things exist. I go out to the desert a lot and I look up and stare at the stars and really ask for some alien ship to land. But it never has happened. A guy committed suicide in my office and sometimes late at night I wonder if his spirit is still there, but I never see him. I guess I am agnostic – I lack faith, but I really, really want to believe. Is Jacques Henri the reincarnation of Henry David Thoreau? Probably not. But that’s my opinion. You ask Jack Daws and he shrugs and says he doesn’t know for sure either, and follows it up with a ‘does it really matter?’ I think we want to believe because it just makes the world more interesting. I think we are far away from being able to prove if there is an afterlife, if there are aliens or ghosts or magical spells, but I think it is important to imagine them. That’s what creativity is – imagining what could be. How boring would life be if we were certain about everything, knew everything. How boring if there were no unknowns, no mysteries… I think I want  Jaques Henri to be telling the truth. That is much more exciting than calling him crazy.
    SEVIGNY: When I was little, like four or five, I had an imaginary friend. We played together and hung out in the yard and he slept in the corner of my room with a little blanket my aunt had knitted. It went on for a long time, maybe three years. I think my parents chalked it up as something that kids do, just an active imagination. When I was a bit older, my parents were showing me a family album, just pictures of relatives and wedding pictures and that sort of thing. At one point I got really excited and pointed to a man in the picture and said ‘that’s Charlie! That’s my best friend in the whole world’. The picture was of my grandfather who had died six years before I was born. Was my imaginary friend actually the ghost of my grandfather? Yes, I think so. I know so. I totally believe in ghosts, and aliens for that matter. Connecticut is full of ghosts. Every town has a haunted house or some terrible thing that happened. Is that a vintage Pucci tie you are wearing?
    LUNDGREN: (looking at his chest) Yeah, actually it is. Ed McMann bought it for my friend’s dad. They used to be friends, and when they found a tie they liked, they would buy two and give the extra as a gift. I got it as a birthday present. Actually, it was from my friend Matt Richter, who used to run Consolidated Works in Seattle. Conworks was one of the few formidable art centers we have had in Seattle. It just didn’t last long enough. The good things in Seattle have a tendency to fall part after a few years.
    SEVIGNY: In the name of progress no doubt! But can’t that be a good thing? If something isn’t working or vibrant, isn’t it best to let it die? New York goes through restaurants and art galleries and boutiques like paper plates.
    LUNDGREN: Maybe with a business, but I don’t think it is healthy in the arts. I think it is important to create a strong infrastructure for emerging and mid-career artists, something that protects them, inspires them, exists to serve them. Art spaces pop up and get torn down just as they start to get their momentum. Seattle has a lot of great arts organizations, but very few that focus on exhibition and marketing of an artists work. We had a long history of making great work but very few places to show it, and fewer opportunities to make a living as an artist. If you want to keep artists in the community, if you want to encourage more artists to move to your city, there has to be a system set up to support them. And by support, I mean specifically, to give them a high profile platform to exhibit, and access to a marketplace that will finance their projects.
    SEVIGNY: Walden Three has been open for a little over a year, and already the artists that you have exhibited and represented have done great things. I think of Warren Dykeman and Jennifer Zwick, Paul Rucker and Susie Lee, Dan Webb and Mandy Greer – these are names I really had no idea about a year ago and now they are everywhere. Not to mention the creative migration to Seattle that is happening right now. The profile piece on Walden Three in the New York Times called Seattle “the new creative capital of America”. That’s big.
    LUNDGREN: The whole reason why Walden Three started was because of this enormous talent. Seattle harbored it, but it couldn’t convert it. We didn’t discover them, we didn’t improve them – we just helped give them more opportunity and visibility. There is so much talent in Seattle, so many smart people, there was just no functional device to bring them together and synthesize their talent. We are still really in the beginning of what we hope to accomplish, but it is exciting to see the artists that we support reach such highs in such a short amount of time.
    SEVIGNY: There are always smart, talented artists that go unnoticed and live lonely, desolate lives. I look at who is famous, or making a lot of money, or making it and sometimes there is no reason to it. Sometimes the brilliant get the spotlight, and talent dies broke and undiscovered. You seem to thing that there is some creative marrow in people and it’s about finding the right technology to extract it. You make it sound like Seattle is sitting on a goldmine and all you have to do was dig it out. It sounds to simple, but I know it wasn’t. Were there a lot of people in Seattle that thought you were dillussional – that W3 was too big a dream? Did you have a hard time convincing people it would work?
    LUNDGREN: It was a big idea, and people in Seattle can be skeptical. Overly cautious. I’m sure there were some people who thought I was crazy or had a bad business plan, or wasn’t qualified – which maybe I am not – but there was never any real visible defiance. It was more of a deafening silence from some of the people that I wanted to be supportive. We had a long list of artists, curators and arts activists that endorsed the project early on – kind of our declaration of independence. And I asked a number of artists, curators, and dealers to help me envision how the space would run, what it would look like. But it wasn’t outright defiance. It was more of a subtle, quiet defiance – key people not supporting it, not fighting for it, maybe because they didn’t think it would happen or that they didn’t like the direction I was proposing.  I guess that was to be expected.
    SEVIGNY: Are those silent voices now knocking on your door?
    LUNDGREN: (laughing) Sure, of course – some of them, but that’s okay. We want to work with the smartest, most dynamic people in the region. We don’t have to all hang out, we don’t all have to like the same things. But it sure would have helped to have their endorsement, to have them talking about it, and lobbying for it in the beginning, when we needed it.
    SEVIGNY: So if I understand this right, you kind of created an imaginary version of the project, kind of a creative art fiction about the project, long before you had the keys to the building.
    LUNDGREN: Yeah, that’s how we ultimately got funded. We realized that there were probably a dozen people in Seattle that could finance a project like this. And maybe a couple of thousand in the United States. And maybe ten thousand around the world – with the capital, the motivation – viable investors. We knew we were employing the internet to reach our audience, so why not use it to find our investors? The website, the blog, was our way of reaching outside of the city. It was our way to show how the center would work, the kinds of shows we would exhibit, the ways we would build our audience and grow over time. We wanted a brick and mortar building, we wanted to employ a team of highly capable, smart people. But we didn’t have any money.
    SEVIGNY: So you created a fake blog?
    LUNDGREN: The blog was very real. A Duane Hanson sculpture of a cowboy isn’t a fake sculpture – it’s very much a sculpture. And a Monet landscape isn’t a fake picture, it is a painting of a landscape, an interpretation. I saw the blog as a way to create something real – sure it was through my filter, sure it was imaginary, but it was a very real idea, and a very real vision of what I wanted, of what I thought Seattle deserved, and what I thought would help elevate creative expression.  There is this artist in Seattle by the name of Charles Parrish. He sculpts figurative busts out of foam and then paints them so they look like cast bronze. He would rather be casting in bronze but he can’t afford to. I don’t think it is a con that he makes them look like bronze – he is presenting his work as closely as he can to what he envisions. And maybe someday he will be able to cast them in bronze. My interest and desire to see Walden Three realized hadn’t wained, but the money wasn’t there, so I built the art center that I could afford, which at first was built out of pixels.
    SEVIGNY: If you didn’t show people outside of Seattle what Seattle was capable of, you would have never gotten financing.
    LUNDGREN: There is no way we would have been financed without the blog. Some people thought it was real, some thought it was a stunt, a prank, but in actuality, it  was the best marketing tool we had. We proved that we could export our ideas, we proved that the model was solid, flushed out, that we had considered so many dimensions of it. Instead of waving our hands around and saying ‘trust us, it’s going to be awesome’ we wrote it all out, week by week, month by month.
    SEVIGNY: I read somewhere that people in Seattle would show up at the doors of Walden Three looking for an exhibit and finding only a condemned building. Piss off a lot of people?
    LUNDGREN: (gulping down the rest of his bourbon) Yeah. Yes. Yes, I’m sure we ticked a few people off. But the desire wasn’t to fool people, to make them look dumb, it was to inspire people, to show them what our city could become with a little strategy and long range vision.
    SEVIGNY: If someone ponied up the money.
    LUNDGREN: Yeah, if someone ponied up the money.
    SEVIGNY: So is Walden Three a movie or an art center? Sometimes I hear it referred to as a movie set and sometimes I refer to it as a gallery.
    LUNDGREN: It’s a movie. That will take ten years to make.
    SEVIGNY: And then what?
    LUNDGREN:  I have no idea. We signed a ten year lease with a ten year option. If we have the money in the bank, if the documentary does well, or the programming budget remains healthy, it could go another ten years. But there is still a big chance that it totally collapse, that the whole deal falls apart. I never said it was going to work. In the business plan, we realized that even a total failure – and by failure I mean the inability to prop up the culture and talent in our region – it could still make for a really interesting film. Sometimes tragedies are more exciting to watch that success stories.
    SEVIGNY: Well, speaking of movies, I know that Nicki Minaj and James Franco are staring in Harmony Korine new film, and that it’s centered around an art center in Seattle that is loosely based on Walden Three. So, if W3 the art center is the stage for W3 the movie, is it weird to have another director filming a movie on your set, with a story that parallels yours in so many ways?
    LUNDGREN: It does feel like a Charlie Kaufman script at times, but ultimately we have to look at what Harmony is doing and see if it benefits Seattle culture, if it benefits the artists that work here. And it does. No doubt. Our documentary film won’t be released until 2022. The more that happens between now and then the better our film will be. It was the same thing with the Joan Woo show we did. A lot of people were giving us blow back for having BMW as a corporate sponsor. Say what you will about the car manufacture, but it allowed Joan to do things we couldn’t afford to do, and it gave her another entirely different audience to view her work. Sponsorships and collaborations can be very dangerous when their is a threat to censor or dilute the ideas of the artist, but if we do not inject artists into popular culture, someone else will occupy that bandwidth.
    SEVIGNY: It happens in the movie industry every single day. Scripts get compromised so much, what they began as is rarely what they ended up as. But what I hear you saying is that the careers of the artists come first, not the trajectory of the film? How can that work?
    LUNDGREN: If we can cultivate our artists and give them more opportunities, bigger opportunities, larger audiences, increased sales, more cultural sway, more creative license and ability to redefine what art is, who it serves and how it is consumed, if we can do that – the documentary has a really powerful narrative. You don’t bend the artists to follow your story arc, you put running shoes on them, give them a good breakfast and watch them run.
    SEVIGNY: What are you thinking about now, what are you  excited about?
    LUNDGREN: We are working with SpaceX and Vulcan on a new exhibit entitled Moonwalk, which I’m really thrilled about. In an effort to build public interest and support for a 2021 manned mission to Mars, there is a return mission to the Moon scheduled for the summer of 2016. One aspect of that mission is to bring the first artist to the surface of the moon. Moonwalk is an exhibition of their proposals for land art and/or performance, on the Moon. Basically, the artist gets 6 cubic feet of payload, and 4 hours on the surface of the Moon. A jury will select the winner, but the collection of proposals is really mind blowing.
    SEVIGNY: I would fill that box full of… wait… I would bring a broom and – that’s hard! I think I would just bring a beach towel and a good book.
    LUNDGREN: Well played!

  2. An Early Christmas at W3
    December 11, 2013 by Walden3

    In the mid-1990’s, the owners of the Seven Seas Building refused an above market-rate offer from the Four Seasons Hotel. About to begin construction on a new multi-million dollar, five star hotel, they wished to secure more real estate and capitalize on the expansive views of Elliot Bay and greater Puget Sound. It wasn’t the first time that the family had turned down a generous offer, but after continued conversation, they did agree to an unusual deal – for $800,000.00 the Four Seasons Hotel purchased the air rights above the building – insuring that no future high-rise would obstruct their sweeping views to the south. The Four Seasons effectively purchased the air rights ten feet above the roof of their neighbor.

    When renovating the Seven Seas Building for W3 operations, it was impossible not to view the 4,000 square foot tar roof as a brilliant outdoor space brimming with potential. Just so long as we didn’t breach the 10 foot easement, our new cargo elevator could open out onto this envisioned roof deck. Would it be a sculpture park, host summer parties, support a ‘living roof’, a zip line to Alki Beach?

    What we had not envisioned was a 47 foot wooden Chris Craft yacht pointed towards the sound and housing an artist-residency program.

    Seattle art collectors Elli and Dan Hansen have been avid supporters of Walden Three, and from the very beginning had offered their Lake Union yacht as a place for visiting W3 artists to stay. The boat, aptly called The Tranquilizer, rarely left its moorage, but proved to be a generous, and truly functional place to house artists. It was an adventure to sleep aboard, and with three staterooms, it comfortably slept six, with two bathrooms, a full kitchen and spacious living quarters… it was just about perfect.



    I don’t want to give a bottle of Blanton’s bourbon full credit, but by the time it was drained (along with a case of red wine, a fifth of tequila and numerous other spirits), Dan, Alan Maskin, Sierra Stinson, Sarah Bergman, Ben Beres, Amanda Manatach, DK Pan and myself had imagined The Tranquilizer on the roof of Walden Three, plumbed into W3’s utilities and serving as a year-round artist-residency program. It was indeed a late-night drunken dream, and while more absurd things had been realized,  I think our collective hang over washed away our enthusiasm and chalked up the night as another lively engagement.

    The conversation seemed to be quickly forgotten to everyone except Elli and Dan Hansen.

    While we were busy filming and producing exhibits at W3, Elli and Dan were on a mission – talking with Ness Cranes, Turner Construction, Olson Kundig Architects and The Four Seasons (the flybridge of The Tranquilizer would rest 14′-4″ above the roofline) and last week we were formally gifted The Tranquilizer. Yes, there will be a yacht on the roof. A. Yacht. On. The. Roof. (How do you scream excitement with a keyboard?) The twin diesel engines will be removed, a section of the hull cut away and retrofitted for stability, and the natural gas, water and sewage will route into our existing utilities.




    The Tranquilizer is on schedule to be crane-lifted onto its perch in late February 2014. We cannot thank Elli and Dan enough, but we will do our very best to make their family yacht one of the most dynamic artist-residency programs in the world, and with Sierra Stinson at the helm of the project, it is sure to be a coveted destination for artists, writers, musicians and all who care to dream with us.

    Happy holidays, and thank you for helping us imagine a greater city.


  3. The People vs. The Art of Unethical Artists
    December 4, 2013 by Walden3



    The Peppermint show has been open for a couple of weeks now, garnering its share of kudos from art literati, protests from the Seattle Archdiocese, and endless bickering from the blogosphere. The educational staff here at Walden 3 stand firm in our belief that the best way to address the questions from this controversial show is to ask you, the concerned public, to weigh in, live, next Thursday, as part of our continuing lecture series. Since it’s all about judgment, we will be turning the steps of the Denny School of Art into an ersatz courtroom, over which will preside the Honorable Sandra Jackson-Dumont, from the Seattle Art Museum. On trial will be the works of four men versus their bodies of work, in an attempt to find consensus on how the art stands up to the artists’ various ignominious behaviors.

    CASE 1: the soul-enlivening musical canon of “the Hardest-working Man in Show Business” vs. infamous spouse abuser and drug addict James Brown

    CASE 2: the high craft, deft meta-irony of one of the NW’s premier ceramic masters vs. Nazi-sympathizer and Holocaust downplayer Charles Krafft

    CASE 3: the quirky, earnest folk art paintings of a late-blooming romantic vs. the corrupt, dunder-headed political nightmare of George W. Bush

    CASE 4: the curious oeuvre of therapeutic peppermint paintings vs. the show’s headlining artist, Thomas Henkelsen.

    For each case, the audience will be invited to act as both prosecutors and defendants, microphones will be used for testimony, claims and evidence will be fact-checked by the staff at W3, opinions will be passionately given, debate fostered, civility will be expected, but argument will be encouraged. Judge Jackson-Dumont will mediate when necessary, and all four men’s cases will be decided by the jury of all present with a formal vote. Matters will be settled thereafter at the Dial, where discussion is likely to carry on until closing time. We hope you can come with compelling testimonies and enjoy an evening of inspired judgment.


  4. Peppermint opens at Walden Three
    November 17, 2013 by Walden3


    A visitor on opening night, peppermint ice cream in hand.

    Friday night marked the opening of Thomas Henkelsen’s controversial retrospective Peppermint, in the Dearborn Gallery. At first glance, one wouldn’t imagine the show to ruffle any feathers – the 110 paintings and collages on display span an art career from 1959 to 2013 and arc from outsider/amateur artist to photorealist to abstract expressionist – all referencing an obsession with peppermint ice cream. At first glance, the viewer can watch the evolution of an artist – a flip book of progress and deconstruction – and think “what’s not to love?” But it is the life of Mr. Henkelsen that disturbs and throws into question almost every aspect of his art-making career. It is by far the most polarizing and controversial show yet exhibited at W3, and from the protesters on the street to the heated conversations in the gallery above, Peppermint asks a plethora of questions about the relationship between artist and their works, and the challenges of celebrating, or even liking work made by individuals with bad ideas and unpardonable crimes.

    In an attempt to diversify the voice and work exhibited at Walden Three, we work with a rotating cast of leading guest curators – art dealers, museum curators and risk-taking art producers from British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon. Of the 20+ yearly exhibitions we host at Walden Three, only a handful are selected by our staff. We would like to think that we have a few good ideas of our own, and receiving more than a hundred unsolicited proposals and artist inquires a month, there is no shortage of work to consider. Peppermint was one of these unsolicited letters of interest, and as controversial as it may be, it was just too rich a territory to ignore.

    Thomas Henkelsen was a priest in Yakima, Washington from 1955 to 1988. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He is currently serving 178 years in Walla Walla State Penitentiary on 57 counts of child molestation. It was a big story when it broke in the early 1990s, but like much of the news (or news of that sort) we forget about it and move along to the next tragedy or war or snip of celebrity gossip. Thomas Henkelsen is 21 years into his sentence, and strangely, amazingly, he has become an exceptional, and exceptionally complex painter.

    Henkelsen was brought to our attention by a tri-cities artist named Bobby Grutt. He is no angel himself (serving time in the 1980s-90s for drug possession, forgery and armed robbery), but has been volunteering and teaching art therapy within the penal system for the past decade. Mr. Henkelsen was a prolific student of Mr. Grutt’s, and as Mr. Grutt wrote in his introductory letter, “a raw, troubled talent that cannot be ignored or eclipsed by the crimes of his past.” His letter and CD of Mr. Henkelsen’s 1,254 works became a pebble in our shoe – we couldn’t get it out of our mind, and in the fall of 2011, drove east to visit Bobby Grutt and the incarcerated Henkelsen. Never before have we approached an exhibition with as much caution, legal counsel, trepidation and community outreach, but driving back to Seattle after that first meeting, we could not deny the emotional complexity of his work and the importance of the conflict it presented. We want to exhibit shows that made people struggle and argue and cry and recalibrtate their understanding of art and the world at large. Peppermint fell squarely within that mission, despite the black eyes and moral conflicts it has inflicted.


    ‘Everyone likes ice cream’ circa 1966. Image courtesy of the artist.

    What makes his paintings, and motivations rather sinister is that peppermint ice cream is what he would give to his young victims after  molesting them. It was his way of “making things right” and “making the kids happy” (his words). In some way, his hundreds of paintings of peppermint ice cream cones are offered to the world – or anyone that will give them the time – in an effort to make up for the bad he has done.  In a very real way, 100% of the sales from this exhibition at Walden Three will go towards the victims and their families. Thomas Henkelsen will not receive a penny from this exhibition, though W3 did honor his singular request – that all visiting guests be given a single scoop of peppermint ice-cream.

    w3 peppermint wall1

    ‘Triple Scoop’ oil on canvas circa 1988. Image courtesy of the artist.

    Somewhere within the trajectory of Mr. Henkelsen’s incarceration, his mouthwatering ice-cream paintings lost their seduction. His forms twisted and melted, became diseased, abstract and often repulsive. His color palate remained primarily pink and white, but the shapes and forms mutated, corrupted, and decayed like a promise broken. They are by far his most compelling work, but they are not the images that little boys reach for.  To see the arc of his work, you can’t help but suspect a sense of guilt, of recognition, of remorse.

    w3 peppermint wall1

    ‘The Great Hussle’ oil on canvas 2007.

    Should galleries and museums be showing the work of a confessed child molester? Should galleries and museums (and libraries and record shops) exhibit or sell works by artists that have committed crimes, propagated bad ideas or were ‘bad people’ in their time? Is it an immoral act in itself? Sure we are raising money to give to his victims, but will it be viewed as celebrating him, forgiving him, validating him as an artist? As David Lister observed in the catalog, “Artistic creations must be used and judged in their own vacuum, free from their creators’ weaknesses, moral failings, even criminal acts. It is not that long of a road from boycotting paintings to burning books.”

    The opening reception was a packed and somber affair. There were ex-cons and religious groups, relatives of the victims (to our knowledge none of Mr. Henkelsen’s victims were in attendance) and twenty-something girls dressed in plaid schoolgirl uniforms. The Dial posted record drink sales (the most common response being “I need a drink!”) 23 ice cream cones littered the gallery floor (and three hit the gallery wall) but when the dust settled and the doors were finally locked, we had raised over $175,000.00. There was no after hours celebration, no high fives – the show still feels like a pebble in our shoe. As it should – it is a complex and disturbing and bitter pill to swallow.


    Greg Lundgren and Bobby Grutt pose in front of Thomas Henkelsen’s 2011 painting ‘Unlimited Supply.’

    Oscar Wilde wrote, “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” But what do we do with the immoral artist – is contemporary culture qualified to make those distinctions, and can we separate the artist from the art? Is there a place in the world for brilliant painters, designers, writers, etc. who commit crimes, propagate hatred, or are just bad people? Can we forgive, can we love the art and hate its creator? Is buying, exhibiting or endorsing the art in some way forgiving its creator? Making us an accomplice to their crime? These are the conversations that ran hot and contentious and unresolved –  in the gallery, on the street and into the homes and workplaces of all that witnessed it.

    Join us next week in the Denny School of Art as instructor Jed Dunkerley navigates Peppermint and the uncertain waters of censorship and morality in art. Guillermo Vargas, James Brown, George Michael, John Galliano, Authur Koestler, Fatty Arbuckle and Seattle’s own Charles Krafft to be discussed.



  5. Best Augmentations: A Survey of Noteworthy Geo-located Virtual Art
    November 14, 2013 by Walden3

    Screen-shot from 43rd story of the Freedom Tower, NYC- "Falling Man Memorail" by Paul Goldblatt

    Screen-shot from 93rd story of the Freedom Tower, NYC- “Falling Man Memorial” by Paul Goldblatt

    In conjunction with Dylan Neuwirth’s ground-breaking show IDOL THREAT in the Mercer Gallery, the Denny School of Art at Walden 3 is excited to present a lecture by NYU art historian Mark Kunstler about the ground already broken in the field of augmented reality (AR). Best Augmentations: A Survey of Noteworthy Geo-located Virtual Art will feature a slideshow of screen-shots of dozens of pieces in their geo-located habitats, as well as Kunstler’s insight into the politics, legal implications, and future of the burgeoning field. The presentation will also include real-time video interviews between Kunstler and four prominent figures in AR. Leslie Ngo, CEO and founder of RadicalEyes, a viewer app that has edged out pioneers AugmentIt and Overlair as the premier virtual real estate broker for artists, will discuss how she approached the Smithsonian regarding virtual posting rights to their exhibition spaces in D.C. There will be a live demonstration of RadicalEyes’ innovations in proximity sensing using mesh networks that give installations an accuracy to within an inch of true space. Other interviews will involve artists Cesar Enriquez (whose digital overlay of full-body nudes atop the entire collection of the National Portrait Gallery got his name on the cover of ArtForum), French sculptor Amina Moussa (whose virtual superimposition of the Muslim Kaaba on the glass pyramid at the Louvre fomented right wing anti-immigration protests in Paris), and New York animator Paul Goldblatt (whose 3D recreation of the falling man from Richard Drew’s famous photo of the 9/11 tragedy at the exact triangulated elevation of its moment of capture presents a sublime monument of the horrific event, viewable from the windows of the newly opened “Freedom Tower” at the site of the World Trade Center). It promises to be an evening of exquisite archival footage, vanguard insights, and elucidating discussion. Not to be missed.