Serial killer art in Las Vegas creating controversy

Nonprofit groups divided over whether to accept funds from sale of John Wayne Gacy art


Leila Navidi

The 18b Arts District in downtown Las Vegas.

Published Tue, May 10, 2011 (8:33 a.m.)

Updated Tue, May 10, 2011 (8:35 p.m.)

A national advocacy organization selected to receive money from the sale of serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s artwork by a Las Vegas gallery says it won’t accept proceeds from such an event, surprising one of its organizers who thought the group was part of the effort.

Gacy was convicted in 1980 and executed in 1994 for the murder of 33 teenagers. Some of the victims were buried in a crawl space under his Chicago-area home.

A spokeswoman for the National Center for Victims of Crime said the organization was never contacted about the fundraising.

“Out of respect for the victims’ families, we have not agreed and would not agree to accept any contribution that comes from the sale of John Wayne Gacy’s work, which he did while in prison for torturing and murdering young boys and men,” Mary Rappaport said.

“We believe the idea of benefiting from an activity relating to such egregious and violent crimes would be in poor taste to the extreme,” she said.

The National Center for Victims of Crime is listed as a recipient of the proceeds in news releases from Sin City Gallery and on the website,, which lists two local beneficiaries — the Contemporary Arts Center and the 18b Arts District.

Laura Henkel, owner of Sin City Gallery, said Friday she would no longer have a direct role in the exhibit but would still allow the art to hang in her gallery in conjunction with lectures she had scheduled.

She said she had no idea the crime victims center had not agreed to receive money from the exhibit, “Multiples: The Artwork of John Wayne Gacy.” Henkel said the arrangements with that organization were made by the owner of the Gacy art collection and said she is upset to hear of the dispute. “I’ve been promoting this because there was going to be some benefit from this, including the National Center for the Victims of Crime.”

Henkel has planned to host the first exhibit this month at Sin City Gallery in the Arts Factory and, in conjunction with the exhibit, has coordinated lectures by Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University, and David Gussak, an assistant professor for the Florida State University Art Therapy Program in the art education department. Levin is scheduled to speak May 17, and Gussak was scheduled to speak May 25. The Contemporary Arts Center, which was scheduled to host the second exhibit in its gallery in September, announced Tuesday that it has decided against it.

“Based on recent developments and new information, the board of directors of CAC and our exhibitions committee are in agreement that the CAC will not host the Gacy show,” board President Anne Davis Mulford said.

Wes Myles, owner of the Arts Factory and main coordinator for the event, said he learned of the Gacy collection when a mutual friend said Gacy bequeathed the collection to him before his execution.

Myles said the collection includes 90 pieces, including “a plethora” of original materials — handwritten letters, manuscripts and audio recordings.

“The art is interesting,” Myles said. “It’s outsider art. It’s primitive art. You can’t be in a room with it without feeling.” When asked if showing Gacy’s art concerned him, Myles referenced fictional television dramas: “How can you say it’s that weird when you’ve got shows like ‘CSI,’ ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Dexter.’ There’s someone dying in every one of the episodes. Our society has a fascination with that.”

Myles said some center members were upset about the exhibit, and when asked if he expected protests, Myles said, “I hope so. To have intellectual conversation about art is positive.”

Henkel said the exhibits and accompanying lectures would be an opportunity for healing.

“I don’t have any reservation for showing the work. It’s part of our history,” Henkel said. “We’re looking at the educational aspect and exploiting Gacy for the benefit of the positive.

“My biggest shock is that people don’t want to have anything to do with it. Obviously, there are people who are into it and people who are appalled by it.”

Opposition to the exhibition and sale of the works is coming from members of the Contemporary Arts Center, who said last week that they will resign from its exhibition committee if this exhibit goes forward.

“The whole thing is a horrible idea,” exhibition committee member Justin Favela said. “I just don’t want to be around that. I don’t want to be part of this. The CAC is not the right institution to do it in. Nor is the Arts Factory.”

Erin Stellmon, another member of the exhibition committee, said, “No matter how you spin it, you’re profiting off dead children. It doesn’t matter where the money goes. If you prostitute children and give the money to the Red Cross, it’s still wrong.

“The CAC is an institution that is very important to the culture of Las Vegas ... I honestly feel that profiting from this show threatens the future of one of the most important organizations in Vegas.”

Mulford confirmed the center was scheduled to receive money.

Gacy was dubbed the Killer Clown because he dressed and performed as “Pogo the Clown” at children’s events. His drawings and paintings include renditions of clowns, the Seven Dwarfs and portraits of Hitler, Charles Manson and Jesus Christ.

Henkel, who says she appraised the collection, suggested the center and 18b as recipients because she wanted the art community to benefit. But, she said, she has been criticized by community members.

“I’m not trying to glorify Gacy in any shape or form,” she said. “These are lectures that are geared toward, ‘OK we have this information, now what do we do with this?’ ”

When asked if a Gacy art exhibit could potentially damage the center, she said, “I really hope not. This is going to be the largest show of an outsider artist here. I see this as an opportunity to create some sort of healing, some sort of education. I’m disappointed that people aren’t taking a look at what’s really going on here.”

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