Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983) is about to be “discovered”


I don’t recall exactly when I first saw Eugene Von Bruencheinhein’s work but I believe it was in Wisconsin – probably at the Kohler Arts Center sometime in the early 90’s. I have been a huge fan ever since. My interest was newly piqued this week when I saw him included in a show of artists’ self portraits at BravinLee.

I did more research and discovered that his estate is now represented by Andrew Edlin Gallery,newly on the Bowery, literally half a block from me. They will be doing a show of his work later this year. They will also be featuring him in their booth at the Armory Show which starts on March 3rd.

EVB, the outsider artist who was never recognized during his lifetime, is clearly about to finally blow up big time. More on the artist below.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910–1983) was an American self-taught artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Over the course of fifty years, from the 1930s until his death in 1983, he created photography (pin-up style photos of his wife, Marie), paintings, drawings and sculpture (frequently using chicken bones).

Eugene, the second of three sons,was only seven years old when his mother, Clara died. Soon after, his father, Edward, married Elizabeth “Bessie” Mosley, a schoolteacher. A woman of literary and artistic ambitions, Bessie “became a model of creativity and intellectual exploration for the young Eugene.”

In 1939 he met the woman who would become his future wife and muse – Evelyn Kalka. She was 19, he was 29. In 1943 they married and Evelyn came to be known as “Marie,” a name she took on in honor of one of Eugene’s favorite aunts. While Von Bruenchenhein worked at a bakery, he and Marie moved into his father’s former storefront at 514 South 94th Place. It was there that Eugene and Marie established an “all-encompassing” world of their own – a world where stages of exotic theaters were mounted, where everyday items fueled his creativity.

Von Bruenchenhein remained anonymous to the larger artistic community for the duration of his career. He produced thousands of pieces of art within the confines of his home-turned-studio. During his lifetime, only close friends and family knew of their existence. Although Von Bruenchenhein’s pieces remained out of sight, it is not for want of trying. In an effort to sell and exhibit his work, he repeatedly approached local galleries, but to no avail. It was only after his death on January 24, 1983, that Daniel Nycz, a close friend and supporter, got the attention of Russell Bowman, the director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. In September 1983, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, began cataloguing the entire collection.

In 1984, the Kohler center launched its first ever exhibit of Von Bruenchenhein’s work. Now, Von Bruenchenhein’s work is garnering newfound attention. Notably, in 2010 Von Bruenchenhein’s work received “its first in-depth museum exhibition” at the American Folk Art Museum. The exhibit, entitled “Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Inovator—Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher” displayed over 125 of Von Bruenchenhein’s photographs, sculptures, paintings, and drawings. Brett Littman, the executive director of the Drawing Center in Soho, was the guest curator.

Roberta Smith, NY Times art critic, is also a big fan writing “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: Henry Darger, Martin Ramírez, Bill Traylor, James Castle and Morton Bartlett.”

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