Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: King of Lesser Lands
Published by Andrew Edlin Gallery.
Edited by Phillip March Jones. Preface by Joanne Cubbs.
"Von Bruenchenhein belongs among the great American outsider artists." -Roberta Smith, The New York Times
King of Lesser Lands traces the fugitive career of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–83), a prolific creator of a diverse range of distinctive images and sculptural objects, who produced his art in private over a period of about 50 years at his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His large and unusual body of work was not discovered until after he died.
In 1939, at the age of 29, Von Bruenchenhein met Evelyn Kalka. She became his wife and muse. Evelyn, who was nicknamed “Marie,” served as his model and the subject of thousands of erotic photo-portraits, which he shot and printed himself. For these images, which emulated girlie-magazine pinups with an offbeat air, Von Bruenchenhein designed and created his own background sets and costumes for Marie.
Around the mid-1950s, the artist began to make abstract paintings using his fingers or sticks, combs, leaves and other makeshift utensils to push oil paint around the surfaces of Masonite boards or cardboard taken from packing boxes at the bakery where he worked. Von Bruenchenhein’s abstract explosions of vibrant color evoke the forms of strange plants or fantasy creatures and architectural structures. Later, Von Bruenchenhein used clay to produce home-fired crowns and vases, and also created mysterious sculptures resembling towers or thrones with chicken and turkey bones.
During his lifetime, only his closest family members and friends knew anything about his artistic pursuits. In 1983, after the artist’s death, one of his friends called the attention of the Milwaukee Art Museum to Von Bruenchenhein’s extraordinary oeuvre.
On the occasion of a 2010 survey of his work at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, Roberta Smith wrote in The New York Times: “Von Bruenchenhein belongs among the great American outsider artists whose work came to light or resurfaced in the last three decades of the 20th century.” Smith placed Von Bruenchenhein’s unusual art in the company of that of Henry Darger, Martin Ramírez, Bill Traylor, James Castle and Morton Bartlett.
Joanne Cubbs is an independent writer and curator who has become a leading expert in art produced beyond the boundaries of the mainstream art. From 1994 to 1997, she was the founding Curator of Folk Art at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, where she established one of the first major museum programs devoted to the works of folk, self-taught and outsider artists. Most recently, she held the position of Adjunct Curator of American Art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where she organized the major touring retrospective Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, an exhibition that Time Magazine called "triumphant" and The Wall Street Journal named one of the best shows of 2011. In addition to her major work on Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, she has organized exhibitions and written essays on religious visionary art, vernacular art environments, and the works of such artists as Howard Finster, Bill Traylor, Lonnie Holley, Anna Zemankova, Eddie Arning, William Hawkins, and Josephus Farmer.