[UPDATED] Exhibit featuring serial killer art has a community riled

Victims of John Wayne Gacy.

Blood money! Serial killers! Clown art!

Who knew that John Wayne Gacy, who lived here only a few months, would play such a large role in our humble arts community?

The fundraising exhibit Multiples: The Artwork of John Wayne Gacy, which was initially scheduled for Sin City Gallery and the Contemporary Arts Center, has him in the spotlight now that a struggling Las Vegas nonprofit has decided to cash in on sales of art by the man who raped, tortured and murdered 33 teenage boys and young men three decades prior.

But it’s not so simple. The story took a turn when a national advocacy organization selected to receive funds from the sale told the Weekly that it would not accept proceeds from such an event, surprising one of the organizers, who then resigned from the project because she’d all along thought that the group was on board.

Arguments and discussions ensued.

Those supporting the fundraiser for the Arts District and the Contemporary Arts Center (which has since canceled its part of the exhibit) have said little to nothing about the work’s artistic merit or lack thereof, but see it as a golden opportunity to briefly wander the caverns of a serial killer’s mind. Some speak of it with stars in their eyes, as if dazzled. (“It’s going to be cool and creepy,” one woman said.)

Those opposed to it see it as blood money, a murderabilia sale that was poorly conceived. Then the word “censorship” gets tossed into the fray, even though whether the work should or should not be shown and discussed is not the issue. The argument lies in the question of whether this is a proper fundraiser or even the right venue for showcasing what Gacy left behind. And there you have the latest conundrum in the Arts District: To cash in on Gacy’s paintings or not to cash in on Gacy’s paintings.

The National Center for the Victims of Crime, which was selected to receive proceeds from the event (without being contacted about it, representatives say), states its view plainly:

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

The exhibit is still scheduled in Laura Henkel’s Sin City Gallery this month, and Jack Levin, the Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University, whom Henkel invited to speak on the matter, is still planning his May 17 lecture at the Arts Factory. Levin says that his role as lecturer is designed to provide “some much-needed balance to the controversy.”

He adds, “My lecture will focus on serial murder generally. There are so many misconceptions about this horrific crime. Hopefully, I can provide a little light rather than more fire.”


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