Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Artist of the Week: Edward Kienholz


Looks like this whole week is going to be pretty L.A. heavy. What can I say? That city was GREAT. Another fun excursion from our trip out west was our visit to LACMA. Besides the fantastic California Design exhibit that initially drew me to that veritable culture compound (they had Charles and Ray Eames’ entire living room with all of its contents cataloged, moved, and set up inside the gallery, down to the very same tumbleweed the couple collected on their honeymoon hanging from the ceiling; a lovely, romantic mobile), I really wanted to see the Edward Kienholz exhibit that was also installed on campus. (Seriously, this place was SPREAD OUT. There were buildings upon buildings upon buildings FULL of art. And! It’s where I had my one and only celebrity sighting all week: Jon Voight on his way to the men’s room. [Celebrities! They pee just like us!])

Edward Kienholz was born in Fairfield, Washington in 1927, and was a major player in the California avant-garde art movement of the 50s and 60s. Kienholz is primarily known for his assemblage sculpture and large-scale installations where he combined found objects with figures cast from life to depict scenes that commented on racism, violence, sex, corruption, and the moral hypocrisy of society. 


Five Car Stud 1969-1972, Revisited is a graphic life-sized tableau that depicts four cars parked in a circle in a large dark room with a dirt floor. The only source of light in the space comes from the cars' headlights shining on a gang of angry white men castrating a black man who had just been discovered with a white woman in a nearby pick-up truck. The viewer is permitted to walk into the scene and among the brutality, to peer into the ugly faces of the monsters who are ripping this man apart, his body cavity ripped open to reveal letters that spell a racial epithet, floating in a pool of water inside him. The fact that you could get so close to the violence, the darkness of the space pushing you right into the action, the gravity of the situation enveloping the viewer entirely, was something I'd never experienced before. It is even now, years after it was originally created, still incredibly disturbing to behold. Created at the end of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, it was one of Kienholz' most controversial works, and because of this, it was only shown once in Germany, after which it was purchased by a Japanese collector and has remained in storage for the last forty years until now. Nancy Reddin Kienholz, the artist's wife and collaborator (LOVE that!), restored the work in advance of its exhibition at LACMA.


I read that after Edward died in 1994 while hiking in the mountains near their home in Idaho, his body was buried in a Kienholz installation; in the front seat of a 1940 Packard Coupe, a dollar and a deck of cards in his pocket, a bottle of wine by his side, and the ashes of his beloved dog in the backseat, the car steered into a big hole by Nancy. Seems to me like a truly fitting and poetic way for the artist to ride into the sunset.

- Cathleen 

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