Art | Edward Kienholz: Five Car Stud

Edward Kienholz
Detail of Five Car Stud, 1969 > 1972
Mixed media tableau
Dimensions variable
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA
Photo © Tom Vinetz 2011



Kienholz: Five Car Stud
Fondazione Prada
Milan | Italy
19 May > 31 December 2016



Edward Kienholz
Five Car Stud, 1969 > 1972
Mixed media tableau
Dimensions variable
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA
Photo © Tom Vinetz 2011



The American artist Edward Kienholz died in 1994 and was buried in a 1940 Packard coupé. The forthcoming presentation at Fondazione Prada of his ghoulish Five Car Stud installation feels something like an exhumation. The artwork, produced between 1969 and 1972, having been first exhibited in 1972 at Documenta 5 in Kassel, and the subject of great controversy at the time, barely shown in public thereafter, was buried deep within a private collection in Japan for almost forty years.

Five Car Stud is a life-sized reproduction, complete in every harrowing detail, of a night scene of brutal racial violence. Lit by the headlights of four cars and a pickup truck, set in an isolated location, a black man portrayed with a double face – one expresses sadness and resignation, the other terror and rage –  has been knocked to the ground. Four white men wearing gruesome masks, pin him down as another prepares to castrate him. While his terrified son looks on from the passenger seat of his car, a sixth masked man stands guard with a shotgun. Shocked and powerless, a white woman – the victim’s date – is forced to witness his ordeal.

Everyone has heard of the beat generation writers – William S Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac – but beat generation artists such as Edward Kienholz (1927 > 1994), who shared the literary movement’s ideals of rejecting materialism and the creation of explicit portrayals of the human condition, are perhaps less familiar. Kienholz grew up in Washington State and never attended art college. By working at various times as a nurse, bar-owner, car dealer, handyman (his truck carried the inscription Ed Kienholz – Expert), he gained experience and insights that would provide invaluable inspiration for the ‘art of repulsion’, based on realistic, re-imagined situations, he wanted to create.

Having relocated to Los Angeles in 1953, adopting assemblage as his medium Kienholz embarked on a creative route that led him to make small-scale ‘tableaux’ such as O’er the Ramparts We Watched, Fascinated (1959), which is included in this exhibition. Not included, but as forceful, visceral and grimy as Burrough’s prose, Kienholz’s The Beanery (1965) forms part of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum collection, and is a life-sized reconstruction of a decaying bar on Santa Monica Boulevard. The artist applied a special paste – a mixture of beer, rancid fat, urine, mothballs and cigarette ash – to his creation to give it the authentic stink. In terms of ambition it can be seen as a portent to Five Car Stud.

Edward & Nancy Reddin Kienholz
The Bronze Pinball Machine with Woman Affixed Also, 1980
Mixed media assemblage
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA



Edward & Nancy Reddin Kienholz
Jody, Jody, Jody, 1993-94
Mixed media tableau
© Kienholz
Courtesy L A Louver, Venice, CA



Like many of the later twentieth century art genres, assemblage had its roots in cubism and dada. Indeed, Kienholz’s work first gained national exposure when it was shown alongside that of European artists Picasso, Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp, among others, in The Art of Assemblage at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1961, after which he began to gain international recognition. However, in terms of content and treatment, Kienholz’s approach had more in common with the German Neue Sachlichkeit artists’ Otto Dix and George Grosz’s unforgiving depiction of Weimar Society and the First World War. By 1970, his 11+11 Tableaux exhibition was being presented in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Paris, Zürich and London.

From 1972 onwards, Kienholz worked in exclusive collaboration with his wife, Nancy Reddin Kienholz. Constantly travelling between their homes in Hope, Idaho and Berlin, and later Texas, the couple produced shockingly thought-provoking pieces such as in The Bronze Pinball Machine with Woman Affixed Also (1980), in which a woman’s spread legs and exposed vagina cast in bronze are attached to a pinball machine, the female body relegated to an object of sexual entertainment. The artwork Jody, Jody, Jody (1994), inspired by a single real life event, is nevertheless a comment on general attitudes toward child abuse. Both pieces (shown here) will be shown in Milan.

Their human scale, and composition – leftover bits of mannequin dummies, threadbare clothing, or plaster casts of real human bodies, and real wristwatches – render Kienholz’s installations unnervingly realistic. The viewer may experience repulsion or sympathy but is instantly transformed into a voyeur, participation is mandatory and unavoidable.

Following restoration Five Car Stud appeared in 2011 and 2012, first at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and then at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Today it is part of the Prada Collection, and is being shown for the first time ever in Italy in this eponymously titled show at Fondazione Prada.

All images courtesy Fondazione Prada


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