Edward Kienholz/ Edward Kienholz

United States 1927 - 1994

Installation, Assemblage Art

Edward Kienholz
Edward Kienholz
Male
United States
1927

A critique must be precise, well argued, and thought provocative. It needs to produce a difference in behavior, and a realization of wrongness. Edward Kienholz was an American sculptor whose installations and assemblages often criticized society, especially emphasizing the sexual prudery of the American people, the fact that they are corrupted, hypocritical, and oppressive of the marginalized groups. All of that lead to some controversies regarding his art, but today, observed from a slightly different perspective, all of his pieces speak the truth. Harsh and unpleasant, but it is the truth. For a person that didn’t consider himself an artist, Kienholz’s artworks possess a very high level of artistic value, and they continue to inspire even today.

Edward Kienholz - Roxys, 1960-61, new exhibition of american work assemblage and works of 1966 in los angeles gallery hopps
Edward Kienholz – Roxys, 1960-61, photo credits David Zwirner/Kienholz Estate

The Filth

The artist followed a specific concept of criticizing the aspects of society, and his style was similar to Neo-Dada and Funk Art. He was inspired by the work of Arman, Claes Oldenburg, Jean Tinguely, and Robert Rauschenberg. Kienholz himself left an impression on Damien Hirst, George Segal, Paul McCarthy, and many more.

In the 60’s, the artist started using materials that were discarded as damaged and seemed grimy, and by including the filthy qualities of the materials, he emphasized the filth of the society, which gave his criticism an even higher note. Politically corrupt, hypocrites, oppressors of the marginalized groups, and the sexually clean and dogmatized were under constant attack from Kienholz, and his approach and controversial subject were the cause of many debates over the appropriate use of the public funding for art.

His controversial subjects were the cause of many debates

Edward Kienholz - Exodus, 1958, works and work in angeles new gallery hopps, american angeles works
Edward Kienholz – Exodus, 1958, photo credits LA Louver

Inspired by a Sex Memory

The Back Seat Dodge ’38 was pointed towards the sexual prudery of the Americans. The piece was inspired by the artist’s own personal experience of taking his dad’s old car, picking up a girl, getting drunk, and having sex in the back seat. He designed the artwork so it practically invites the viewers and invokes a certain level of voyeurism. It caused a lot of controversies when it was exhibited at the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1966, as the County Board of Supervisors called it pornographic and revolting, and threatened to deny the funding to the museum and shutting it down. But, as it often happens, the attempt of censorship backfired and the crowds rushed to the museum to see the talked-about piece. The Board insisted that doors must be closed during the exhibition, and the security guard would open them only for viewers over the age of 18 who insisted on taking a peek inside. Even today, it is one of the most popular artworks in the LACMA’s collection.

The piece was branded as pornographic and revolting, but that just drew more people to come and see it

Edward Kienholz - Back Seat Dodge '38, 1964, gallery work in los angeles
Edward Kienholz – Back Seat Dodge ’38, 1964, photo credits sartle

Have a Drink

The notion of time and the ideas of postponing the death were addressed in the piece titled The Beanery, inspired by a real bar called Barney’s Beanery. All the people, except the bartender Barney, have clocks instead of the faces in this walk-in installation, and they are all set to the same time 10:10. It is modeled at two-thirds of the size of the original Beanery, it also includes the sounds and even the smells of the bar, and it represents the Kinholz’s prowess as a craftsman. The Beanery is a part of Stedelijk Museum’s collection and it was restored in 2012.

In this piece, the artist explored the notion of time

Edward Kienholz - The Beanery, 1965, gallery
Edward Kienholz – The Beanery, 1965, photo credits Nancy Reddin Kienholz/Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The Skills

Edward Kienholz was born in Fairfield, Washington and grew up in a working-class family. He was a carpenter, repaired cars, and worked with metal, obtaining skills that will later help him with his art. Self-taught, he never studied art but has pursued painting before he started making large wooden reliefs. His attention shifted to 3D assemblages. From 1972, he collaborated with his wife, Nancy Reddin Kienholz, and in 1981, he finally admitted that all the works made after 1972 should be retrospectively understood to be co-authored by, and co-signed by his wife. After Edward’s death in 1994, Nancy continued the legacy of her late husband.

The artworks made after 1972 are co-authored by his wife, Nancy

Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz - The Ozymandias Parade, 1985
Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz – The Ozymandias Parade, 1985, photo credits contemporaryartdaily

Fighting the Apathy

Kienholz’ ultimate goal as an artist was to get the people to interact with his pieces, and he realized that in order to do so, he had to attract their attention. There was no room for passivity as it would defeat the entire purpose. If the viewers get actively involved in his art, they just might become a motor for a change. The artist was annoyed by the apathy that characterized the western culture of his time. Even today, we’re living our lives often as simple passive observers, without the power or desire to make a difference, to correct the injustices happening all around us. Kienholz’s art serves as a brutal reminder of the true nature of the world. But, in the end, the reality is what we shape it to be. Nothing more, nothing less. Maybe we just need a wake-up call, so we could finally make this world a better place.

Edward Kienholz lived and worked in Hope, Idaho.

Featured image: Edward Kienholz – portrait, photo credits sartle

All images used for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016KienholzFondazione Prada, MilanSolo
2016Kienholz TelevisionsL.A. Louver, Venice, CASolo
2016Edward & Nancy Kienholz: A Selection of Works from the Betty and Monte Factor Family CollectionSprüth Magers, LondonSolo
2016In the MakingLuxembourg & Dayan, New York, NYGroup
2015Collecting and Sharing: Trevor Fairbrother, John T. Kirk, and the Hood Museum of ArtThe Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, NHGroup
2015Drawing in L.A.: The 1960s and 70sLos Angeles County Museum of ArtGroup
2015An IntroductionFondazione Prada, Milan, ItalyGroup
2014BERLIN-HOPEL.A. Louver, VeniceSolo
2014Septet - Un Kienholz d’exceptionGalerie de France, Paris, FranceSolo
2014Gwangju BiennaleGwangju Biennale Foundation, Gwangju, South KoreaGroup
2013The Jesus CornerMissoula Art Museum, Missoula, MTSolo
2013Re-View Onnasch CollectionHauser & Wirth, London, EnglandGroup
2012Kienholz: The Ozymandias Parade - Concept TableauxPace Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2012Kienholz before LACMAL.A. Louver, Venice, CASolo
2012Another Test ExhibitionMOCA, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2011Kienholz Die Zeichen Der ZeitSchirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, GermanySolo
2011Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud 1969-1972, RevisitedLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CASolo
2011Crosscurrents in L.A.: Paintings and Sculpture 1945-1970The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2010RoxysDavid Zwirner Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2009Time & Place: Los Angeles, 1958-1968Kunsthaus Zürich, SwitzerlandSolo
2008Time & Place: Los Angeles, 1958-1968Moderna Museet, Stockholm, SwedenSolo
2007Edward KienholzHaunch of Venison, Zurich, SwitzerlandSolo
2005Edward KienholzBALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, AustraliaSolo
2004Edward KienholzBraunstein-Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CASolo
2002Edward KienholzPortland Art Museum, ORSolo
2002Edward KienholzPaceWildenstein, New York, NYSolo
2002Edward KienholzL.A. Louver Gallery, Venice, CASolo
1996RetrospectiveWhitney Museum, New York, NYSolo
1994Edward KienholzSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CASolo
1989Edward KienholzL. A. Louver Gallery, Venice, CASolo
1981Edward KienholzGalerie Maeght, Zurich, SwitzerlandSolo
1980Edward KienholzGemini G.E.L. Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1979Edward KienholzHenry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, WASolo
1979Edward KienholzUniversity Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, CASolo
1977Edward KienholzHope Gallery, Hope, IDSolo
1976Edward KienholzHenry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, WASolo
1975Edward KienholzOnnasch Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1975Edward KienholzGalerie Christel, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
1971Edward KienholzWide White Space, Antwerp, BelgiumSolo
1971Edward KienholzInstitute of Contemporary Arts, London, EnglandSolo
1970Edward KienholzModerna Museet, Stockholm, SwedenSolo
1970Edward KienholzStädtishce Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, GermanySolo
1969Edward KienholzEugenia Butler Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1968Edward KienholzBoise Gallery of Art, Boise, IDSolo
1967Edward KienholzWashington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, DCSolo
1967Edward KienholzDwan Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1966Retrospective Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CASolo
1966Edward KienholzDwan Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1966Edward KienholzUniversity of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, CanadaSolo
1966Edward KienholzNorman Mackenzie Art Gallery, Saskatchewan, CanadaSolo
1965Edward KienholzDwan Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1964Edward KienholzDwan Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1963Installation of RoxysAlexander Iolas Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1963Edward KienholzDwan Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1962Installation of RoxysFerus Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1961Edward KienholzPasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, CASolo
1960Edward KienholzFerus Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1958Edward KienholzExodus Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1958Edward KienholzFerus Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1956Edward KienholzSyndell Studio, Los Angeles, CASolo
1955Edward KienholzCoronet Louvre, Los Angeles, CASolo
1955Edward KienholzCafé Galleria, Los Angeles, CASolo