Captain Beefheart Takes a Bow at Michael Werner

Avant-garde rocker Captain Beefheart occupies a unique pop-culture niche thanks to his absurdist songs from the 1970s, but his career as a painter is less well known — even though art has been his main creative outlet since he stopped recording music in 1982. A painting by Beefheart, who now goes by his given name, Don Van Vliet, is nestled in a prime spot at Michael Werner gallery’s ABMB booth. (Check out his other paintings at the gallery’s Web site.)

Priced at $40,000, the paint-glooped 1992 abstraction — titled “black doily” — is the latest Van Vliet work to be offered by the gallery, which has represented the artist for twenty years. He came to Werner after A.R. Penck, another gallery artist, became a captain Beefheart fan in East Berlin in the ’70s. “Now a whole generation of younger artists has become obsessed with his work, like Thomas Houseago and Aaron Curry,” said gallery managing director Gordon VeneKlasen. Van Vliet’s expressionistic style — “he started out more figurative, and became less so,” explains the dealer — is very much in key with the gallery’s heavily Germanic roster, whose art surrounds the work in the booth.

While the Van Vliet was still available as of 3:30 during the vernissage, the gallery enjoyed a flurry of other sales in the fair’s first hours. A humongous, wall-devouring Georg Baselitz painting from 2005 — titled “Die Grossen Fruende (Remix),” and featuring two sketchy figures against a white ground, one with yellow swastikas on his knees — sold for “just under a million dollars,” according to VeneKlasen, and all six 2010 Aaron Curry works, including a hanging sculpture and collage paintings, moved at prices ranging from $15,000 to $60,000. Other works sold too, including a Sigmar Polke for $400,000.

Is the dealer excited by the market energy? “I’m beyond that,” he said. “I’m satisfied. I could go home now and be happy.”

Don Van Vliet's painting at Michael Werner gallery