Is It Ethical to Profit From a Serial Killer's Art? Behind the John Wayne Gacy Show Uproar

Is It Ethical to Profit From a Serial Killer's Art? Behind the John Wayne Gacy Show Uproar
A Las Vegas gallery is currently hosting a show of work by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted in 1980 and executed in 1994 for the murder of 33 teenagers. The show was intended to benefit the National Center for Victims of Crime as well as two local arts organizations. But the victims' advocacy group says it was never contacted about being a beneficiary and will not accept the proceeds on moral and ethical grounds.

"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, a spokesperson for the National Center for Victims of Crime, told the Las Vegas Sun. "We believe that the idea of benefiting from an activity relating to such egregious and violent crimes would be in poor taste to the extreme."

While the show takes place at Sin City Gallery, the impetus behind it comes from Wes Myles Isbutt, co-owner of the Arts Factory complex where the gallery is located. Isbutt told the Sun that he learned of the collection when a mutual friend told him that Gacy bequeathed it to him before his execution. Sin City Gallery's Web site refers only obliquely to the show. The full title, "MULTIPLES: The Artwork of John Wayne Gacy," is not given, but instead there is a listing for "MULTIPLES Lecture Series," which features one lecture by a criminologist and another by an art therapist.

But while it's almost absent from Sin City Gallery's site, the exhibition is baldly promoted in full on The site states that "the Arts Factory is raising important questions here, questions that make artists, gallery owners and viewers examine themselves and their feelings about the artist.... Is the gallery a temple in which only those deemed worthy should be displayed, or is it, rather, a courtroom, a place all artists are equally qualified to be judged?" The show includes paintings of skulls, clowns (including one with fangs), goldfinches on cherry blossoms, and the seven dwarfs. Portraits of Jesus, Hitler, Elvis, John Dillinger, Al Capone, and Charles Manson are also displayed. There are over 70 pieces priced between $2,000 and $15,000, and Gacy memorabilia such as letters and audio recordings are also for sale.

Two local arts organizations, the Contemporary Arts Center and the 18b Arts District, are also listed as beneficiaries on the exhibition's standalone Web site. The show's organizer, Wes Myles Isbutt, is also the founding president of the 18b Arts District, where his Arts Factory is located. The president of the Contemporary Arts Center's board, Anne David Mulford, confirmed to the Sun that the center was scheduled to receive a portion of the proceeds of the current show.

However, while the Contemporary Arts Center was scheduled to also host the Gacy show in September, it has now decided not to do so. Mulford told the Sun that "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." Several members of the center's exhibition committee had threatened to resign if the show went forward. "The whole thing is a terrible idea," committee member Justin Favela told the Sun. "I just don't want to be around that. I don't want to be a part of this. The CAC is not the right institution to do it in. Nor is the Arts Factory."

Naturally, show organizer Wes Myles Isbutt has a different take on the matter. "The art is interesting," he told the Las Vegas Sun. "It's outsider art. It's primitive art.... You can't be in a room with it without feeling." He did not specify, however, exactly what it would make the viewer feel or why.