Review of Conjugal Visit | Leonardo

Review of Conjugal Visit

Conjugal Visit
by Charles Krafft

Zoya Tommy Gallery, Houston, TX
Exhibition: 9 September–8 October 2016
Exhibition website:

Reviewed by: 
Richard Kade
February 2017

Seattle-based artist, Charles Krafft, explains that Conjugal Visit is "a body of work with a prison theme" he prepared last year (2015) for an exhibition in the East End of London. "My idea was to commemorate some of the more notorious American and British penitentiaries and their famous inmates on china. Due to juvenile social media shaming at the Not Banksy Forum and a spate of obscene phone calls made to the gallery, the show was canceled before it opened and the work never was seen there."

Krafft continues, "Texas is the crown jewel in America's burgeoning prison industrial complex so I can think of no better place than Houston to premiere this work plus a selection of newer and seldom seen pieces from my ongoing Porcelain War Museum and Disasterware™ series. Let's hope the Iron Curtain of social justice sanctimony in the visual arts doesn't drop again."

One can quibble that ceding the distinction of "crown jewel" to the Lone Star State might be unfair to the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, where John Gotti spent his last years or to ADX Florence, the Federal Administrative Maximum Facility supermax in Florence, Colorado, where Theodore "Unabomber" J. Kaczynski is currently serving eight consecutive life sentences. Another obvious contender must be "Club Gitmo"—that tropical resort for those resting up from the rigors of waging jihad.

Then too, others can claim California deserves the dubious distinction, boasting such infamous inmates as Charlie Manson and Sirhan B. Sirhan. This quibbling is partially mitigated by noting that Texas unique in that it may have more privatized prisons than any other state.

Krafft points out Texas executes "capital criminals with none of the hand-wringing that goes on in, say, California where Charlie Manson gets photographed and interviewed for prime time TV and the mass print media regularly. I'm surprised they don't let him out to lend his luster to The Oscars ceremonies every year."

Of course, the big headline of this exhibit is that the transfer of black-and-blue-on-white from porcelain to satin remains every bit as effective and visually striking in giving utterance to the urgency of human imperfection churning out subjects for the seemingly endless rogue's gallery of mugshots that adorn the most striking centerpiece of this new display: Ñetas Dress as well as the far more informal Aloha Ñetas Shirt.

Other classics will delight lovers of such whimsical expression as the 2009 Ammo Chess Set [1] replete with most of the pieces cast from ammunition for light arms: pistol and rifle rounds as well as shotgun shells. The kings are German WWII era hand grenades minus the pin. Krafft has also updated his earlier treatment of "ol' Vlad, the Impaler" by adding an oxidized finish to Rusty Putin with Bird on Shoulder.

Rounding out the exhibit (as of early September, 2016) are works by James Ciosek, [2], Marzia Faggin [3] and the late Dr. Guus Kemp.


[1] This piece somehow reawakened memory from over four decades ago of Three-player Chess. (See )
[3] Faggin, Marzia, with photography by Manuel Terranova Fragile (Houston, TX, Nau-haus, 2011 pp. i-ii) See also