American, 20th century.
Born 1910, Marinette, Wisconsin; died 1983, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was born July 31, 1910 in Marinette, Wisconsin, the second of three sons by Edwin and Clara Von Bruenchenhein. Within a few years, the family moved to Green Bay and eventually settled in Milwaukee where Eugene's father worked as a sign painter. Von Bruenchenhein's mother died in 1917, when he was seven and his father later married Elizabeth "Bessie" Mosely, a former schoolteacher who in 1926 authored a pamphlet entitled, "Evolution: The Law of Progress Based on Truth", along with several other treatises on evolution and reincarnation. She also painted floral still lifes and proved to be a strong influence on young Eugene who regarded her as a mentor until her death in 1938.
Although he did not finish high school, Von Bruenchenhein was an avid student of botany and history and wrote extensively on his own metaphysical theories of biological and cosmological origins. He also composed poems on nature, love, and time travel. For a time, Von Bruenchenhein worked at a bakery during the day, and in the evenings he privately made his art which occupied every corner of his modest home. He painted fantastical landscapes, structures, and creatures on cardboard and Masonite but also decorated ceilings, walls, doors and windows throughout his home. He constructed miniature thrones and towers from dried chicken bones and model airplane glue. Ceramic crowns, vases, and floral elements were formed from hand-dug clay and fired in the stove. Concrete was poured onto plastic bags in his driveway to make large heads which he painted and positioned around the exterior of his home. Von Bruenchenhein is best known, however, for his photographs, including hundreds of portraits of his wife, Marie, in exotic costumes and settings.
In 1939, Von Bruenchenhein met a 19-year-old girl named Eveline Kalke, whom he nicknamed "Marie," at a state fair in Wisconsin. Four years later they married and Marie became the artist’s muse, collaborating in the staging of hundreds of provocative pinup-like photographs. Costumed in handmade bikinis, heavy heels, stockings and adorned in swags of plastic pearl necklaces, she posed in front of backdrops fashioned from floral curtains or chenille bedspreads. Occasionally she wore a crown fashioned from a coffee can adorned with Christmas tree ornaments, which she wears with strapless gowns that loosen during the photo session to become topless portraits.
Von Bruenchenhein died on January 24, 1983 at the age of 72 from congestive heart failure. Shortly afterwards, Daniel Nycz, a West Allis policeman who had befriended the artist years earlier, contacted Russell Bowman, then chief curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum, in the hope that some of Von Bruenchenhein's artistic creations could be sold in order to provide for Eugene's impoverished widow, Marie. Bowman in turn called Ruth Kohler, director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, which was known for preserving the work of outsider artists. In September 1983, all of Bruenchenhein's works contained within his home were transported to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Subsequently, an extensive effort to document, catalog and preserve Von Bruenchenhein's work was mounted under the direction of Joanne Cubbs.
- Phillip March Jones
2019, Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
2019, The Doors of Perception, Curated by Javier Téllez in collaboration with the Outsider Art Fair, Frieze New York
2018, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
2017, Known/Unknown: Private Obsession and Hidden Desire in Outsider Art, Museum of Sex, New York
2013, Alternative Guide To The Universe, Hayward Gallery, London
2013, The Encyclopedic Palace, 55th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, Giardini and at the Arsenale, Venice
2013, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
2013, Women's Studies, American Folk Art Museum, New York
2011, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: From the Wand of the Genii, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago
2011, Inova/Kenilworth, a gallery of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee
2010, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Freelance Artist-Poet and Sculptor-Innovator-Arrow maker and Plant man-Bone artifacts constructor-Photographer and Architect-Philosopher, American Folk Art Museum, New York
2010, Out Of This World, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore
2008, After Nature, Group Exhibition, New Museum, New York
2007, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Feigen Contemporary, New York
2004, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Feigen Contemporary, New York
2001, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum, American Folk Art Museum, New York
1999, Botanical Explosions: The Paintings of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York
1999, Obsession, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne
1999, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein Photography, Aurel Scheibler Gallery, Cologne
1999, Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century, traveling exhibition sponsored by the Museum of American Folk Art, New York
1998, Ceramic Sculptures: Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia
1998, Naked, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York
1997, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Works in Clay, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia
1996, Biennale de Lyon, Lyon
1996, Looking Beyond the Mirror, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1996, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Paintings, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York
1995, A World of Their Own: Twentieth-Century American Folk Art, Newark Museum, Newark
1995, Obsession: Photographs by E.V.B., Michael Lord Gallery, Milwaukee
1994, Experience the Fantasy, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1994, Marie, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York
1993, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Fotografien, Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne
1993, E. Von Bruenchenhein Photographs, Edward Thorp Gallery, New York
1992, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Utopic Dreams, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1991, Dreams, Lies and Exaggerations: Photomontage in America, Traveling Exhibition: The Art Gallery of the University of Maryland at College Park; John M. Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan
1990, Outsiders: Artists Outside the Mainstream, Octagon Center for the Arts, Ames, Iowa
1990, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1990, Chicago New Art Forms Exposition, Chicago
1990, Visions: Expressions Beyond the Mainstream, Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago
1990, Chicago International Art Exposition, Chicago
1990, E. V. B.: Paintings and Photographs, Edward Thorp Gallery, New York
1989, Departures: Photography 1924-1989, Hirschl and Adler Modern, New York
1989, Paintings of Utopic Vision, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1988, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Obsessive Visionary, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
1998, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1998, Chicago International Art Exposition, Chicago
1998, Chicago New Art Forms Exposition, Chicago
1987, Chairs as Art, Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago
1987, Material Obsessions, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1987, A Thousand and One Nights, Landmark Gallery, Milwaukee
1987, Chairs, Expressways Children’s Museum, Chicago
1987, Chicago International Art Exposition, Chicago
1987, Chicago New Art Forms Exposition, Chicago
1986, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago
1984, Von Bruenchenhein: A Retrospective, Landmark Gallery, Milwaukee
1984, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: Wisconsin Visionary, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan
1983, Remains To Be Seen, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Collection de L'Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Illinois
John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California
Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Missouri
New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Rugoff, Ralph, ed., The Alternative Guide to the Universe, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Publishing, London, 2013.
Littman, Brett (with a preface by Maria Ann Conelli), Eugene Von Bruenchenhein: “Freelance Artist—Poet and Sculptor—Innovator—Arrow maker and Plant man—Bone artifacts constructor—Photographer and Architect—Philosopher,” exhibition catalogue, American Folk Art Museum, New York, 2011.
Swislow, William, "Three Outsider Photographers: Lee Godie, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein and Morton Bartlett," Folk Art Messenger, Winter 2002.
Squires, Carol, "King of Hearts," American Photography, May-June 2000.
Stone, Lisa, "Eugene Von Bruenchenhein," Raw Vision, No. 10, Winter 1994-95.