Ed Kienholz

(1927 - 1994)

About The Artist


Assemblage and installation artist Ed Kienholz was one of the most influential and important figures to emerge from the Los Angeles art scene in the fifities and sixties. Along with Walter Hopps, he helped to found the legendary Ferus Gallery—the nucleus of the Los Angeles art scene at the time, fostering talent including Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Ed Moses, John Altoon, Robert Irwin, Billy Al Bengston, and more. His sculptures and installation tableaux pushed boundaries and made criticisms of contemporary society, touching upon race and gender relations, media, war commentary, and in general, a dissatisfaction with the modern condition.

His 1962 assemblage, The Future as Afterthought, captures his challenging and provocative mode. Thought to be an incendiary comment on abortion and reproductive rights, Kienholz placed dismembered, dirty plastic dolls on a pedestal made of sheet metal, tricycle pedals, and wood. One of his most complicated, affecting, and political works, Five Car Stud (1969-1972), was only shown once in Los Angeles in the parking lot of Gemini G.E.L. before being scuttled away to be exhibited in Germany, and then to storage in Japan. In an expansive installation involving nine life-sized, latex cast figures, five full-sized cars, and several live trees and dirt, the crux of the tableaux centered on a group of white men encircling, beating, and castrating a black man. Kienholz explained his motives for this highly aggresive piece, made near the end of the Civil Rights Movement: "In my mind the work has always taken on a kind of life and identity of its own…and as I push one way it seems to push back another. […] The conversation with Five Car Stud is still very painful and slow, but one thing has been established for sure: if 6 to 1 is unfair odds in my tableau, then 170 million to 20 million is sure as hell unfair odds in my country." After languishing away in storage abroad for over 40 years, it was exhibited at LACMA in 2011-2012, shocking new audiences.

Backseat Dodge ’38 (1966), on the other hand, had plenty of viewers in its own time. Inspired by a high school memory of hijinks in the backseat of his father’s car of the same make and model, Kienholz used plaster and chicken wire to create an amorous couple in the back of an actual 1938 Dodge that the artist had modified. Three days before the opening of the exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, newspapers reported on the efforts of the city government to censor the piece on grounds of it being “pornographic.” Intrigued, hundreds of eager spectators lined up around LACMA in attempts to view the work.

In 1972, shortly after creating Five Car Stud, Kienholz met wife Nancy Reddin, and some years later, he made a public announcement that all works after that date should be attributed to the pair. His work, along with collaborations by the husband-wife team, can be found in institutions in the United States and around the world, including but not limited to the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; Staatsgalerie Stuttgard, Stuttgard, Germany; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and the Tate Collection, London, United Kingdom.

Myers, Holly. “Confronting the darkness of Ed Kienholz's 'Five Car Stud' at LACMA.” LATimes.com. The Los Angeles Times 28 Aug. 2011. Web. Nov. 20, 2014.
“Edward Kienholz: Back Seat Dodge '38.” LACMA.org. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Web. 20 Nov, 2014.