Art history lesson: Ed Kienholz

Modern art has a bad reputation. Between Damien Hirst selling spin art, Jeff Koons fucking his wife on a billboard and the level of effort needed to appreciate that Jackson Pollack dancing around with a paint coated twig was part of the art, it’s easy for someone who isn’t $80,000 in debt due to a BFA to dismiss everything past van Gogh.

Edward Kienholz, and also his wife Nancy, joint credited as Kienholz on his later work, is (Are? this is why run-on sentences are bad) my favorite artist. There’s a definite social bent to his work but he never let’s his opinions influence the work. He presents the viewer with a reality, often a painful one, and there it sits on view. There’s no commentary, no answers. Just, “Look what you people are doing.”

His first work of notoriety was Five Car Stud, a lynching and castration of a black man lit by headlights

The Illegal Operation illustrates the horror of back alley abortion which resonates to me powerfully as a person raised in an age when this doesn’t, or shouldn’t, happen at all. The woman supplanted in favor of a bag, and there are surgical instruments in that bedpan.

I’m cribbing lines from his retrospective, but The State Hospital shows a figure so desolate that the only things he can dream of is his existence in a ward for forgotten people. The first picture is an interior, the second an exterior. Kienholz worked large and his assemblages could be complex.

Sollie 17 is a portrait of a downtrodden old man left to flit away the remaining hours of his life in a tenement. I seriously can’t imagine another medium that could present this subject in such an arresting way. First image is interior, second is exterior and detail.

The Portable War Memorial is interesting. It folds up and the date and victory theater are changeable. The professor who turned me on to Kienholz loved this thing. War is bad is not the most resonant sentiment to me since no one would argue that. That professor kind of makes his living on the back of that one theme.

A couple lesser works I scraped off of Google. Not everything can be a masterpiece. The best artists are prolific.

Thank you. Sorry there aren’t thumbnails.You have no idea how hard it was to will myself to finish this. …personal shit…

Oh yeah, he chopped a TWA bureaucrat’s desk in half after the airline broke his lamp.

The TWA incident:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s