NEW YORK—Over the past 20 years, interest has grown slowly but steadily in the work of Don Van Vliet, a seasoned artist sometimes known as the musical innovator Captain Beefheart.
“In the 1980s and ’90s a musician who made art was anathema to the system,” says Gordon VeneKlasen, a partner at Michael Werner Gallery, which has represented Van Vliet since 1983. “Now he’s right in the system.”
A sampling of Van Vliet’s paintings and drawings, dating from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, are on display at the Michael Werner and Anton Kern galleries, New York, from May 31-July 6 (both galleries are showing selections from that entire time period).
The prices for paintings—colorful, semi-abstract works—range from $25,000/120,000, while drawings are in the $3,000/4,000 range.
VeneKlasen says that Van Vliet has never found a consistent market, although many artists have been intrigued and inspired by his work. The Michael Werner Gallery took Van Vliet on, VeneKlasen explains, after East German artist A.R. Penck, also represented by the gallery, raved about his paintings. Collectors of Van Vliet are of all ages, the gallerist notes, but “there is new excitement in the younger generation to look at the paintings.”
Van Vliet, 67, was born in Glendale, Calif., and today lives in the desert in Northern California’s Humboldt County. As Captain Beefheart, his highest-charting album was 1975’s Bongo Fury (it peaked on the Billboard charts at No. 66), but his musical masterpiece is widely considered to be Trout Mask Replica, 1969.
After the release of the album Ice Cream for Crow in 1982, Van Vliet gave up music to devote himself exclusively to art. British rocker P.J. Harvey, who befriended Van Vliet several years ago, wrote the preface to the catalogue for his current show.
Prices for Van Vliet’s paintings have risen steadily over the years, VeneKlasen reports, and the gallery sells his work on a regular basis. His last show at Michael Werner was in the summer
Eight of Van Vliet’s paintings came up at auction from 1989-2003, with estimates ranging from $800/20,000; only two found buyers (the highest auction price just topped $9,000).
VeneKlasen does not know of any museums that own Van Vliet’s work, but says he was part of a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1982 and had a 1993-94 solo exhibition at the Museum Waldorf in Bielefeld, Germany, that also traveled to the Kunsthallen Brandts Klaedefabrik in Odense, Denmark, and England’s Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.