Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ed Kienholz

Did you know that before I studied finance and risk management, before I edited, marketed, and published comics, before all that, that I was an art history major?

One of my favorite artists is Ed Kienholz (1927-1994). He came to campus once for a a pair of shows at the Rice Museum and at the CAM in 1985. So I got to met him, and he and his wife/collaborator Nancy Reddin were really open and friendly to us students. He was having a good experience in Houston. CAM in particular was a very flexible space for him to build his huge tableaus. He complained bitterly about a museum in Seattle that failed to accommodate him adequately. (I later got to be friends with Larry Reid, then the director of that "museum," who had bad memories of Kienholz and his difficult demands.)

Kieholz's work is seering, brutal, unbelievably powerful. I don't know why, but today he and his work popped into my mind.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Back Seat Dodge '38, mixed media, 1964.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
The State Hospital, mixed media, 1966

From a review of a Kienholz show in The Guardian, 2005:
When Ed Keinholz died, he was buried in his 1940 Packard, a deck of cards and a dollar in his pocket, a bottle of 1930 Italian red wine beside him, the cremated remains of his dog (who died a few days before him) on the back seat. His burial arrangements sound like one of his own works. It also gives something of the measure of the man, a farmer's boy of Swiss ancestry from Washington State, self-taught, immensely self-reliant, an individualist westerner who dodged the draft for the Korean war and made a living as an odd-job man in the 1950s (he had a truck advertising his services with the words "Kienholz - Expert" on the side). He decorated bars in Las Vegas, worked in a Spokane speakeasy, and opened a shortlived but successful LA gallery with the curator Walter Hopps in the late 1950s, a place that, by all accounts, had much in common with today's "alternative spaces". Kienholz was a hard-nosed guy who loved to hunt (he once took the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely on a duck shoot), loved cars, dogs and horses and the outdoors, and eyed New York with suspicion, always going his own way.Kienholz made installations before there really was such a thing, and conceptual works before the term became a movement. In the 1960s, he swapped watercolour "Barter" works, whose washy grounds bore only the rubberstamped name of the thing he wanted, for the goods themselves: a set of screwdrivers, a fur coat, a portable saw, a car.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
The Birthday, mixed media, 1964



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew him when he was at Ferus. He bought a nice spread in the Hollywood Hills and I once asked him, "Why not live in South L.A. amongst the oppressed?" He said, "that area is dangerous". This proves he was a fraud, living a high society life, ripping on everyone's "racism" and yet being a big racist himself.

5:19 PM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

Yep, that certainly proves it! Golly! What a fraud, not wanting to live in South LA. Since his art was all about racism and how bad racist people were and how everyone was a racist racist racist. Fraud! You nailed it!

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a connection with this guy.
I don't really know how to explain it. In college in order to graduate in 4 years I took some summer school classes. I decided that since I was ruining my summer I might as well enjoy it so I signed up for art. Rubin Trejo was the art teacher. We had a art textbook. The lectures were ok, but in reading the art book I felt a connection I can not describe. The only way I can describe it, is I "got it". I felt I could do this, move people. Anyway, Ed Kienholz was a friend of Rubin Trejo. I saw in the book his art, and I felt moved. Later, much later, after graduation and getting a job/career, I was camping at Sam Owen campground on Pend Oreille Lake at Hope Idaho.
From our campground I loaded all the kids and adults into the cab and bed of my pickup to tour the area and see all the deer. Well, low and behold I came to a secluded dead end road where a overwhelming mass of concrete with much grafity was set to the left of an expensive looking steel gate. Being observant I immediately recognized I was looking at a far more important object than a mass of concrete.
The berlin walll, I was seeing a chunk, many tons of a barbaric icon of the divide of ideals of the wealthy and connected. Here before me and my small family group was a vestige of the division of the spoils of world war II. Powerful. I informed my group of what we were looking at not knowing if they really understood the significance of it, when the gate opened. I sat dumbfounded, not knowing how to proceed. Forever I will be tortured, knowing I came to a fork in the road and did not take it.
This was Ed Kienholz's home along the shores of the incompareable Pend Oreille Lake. I will not know what type of man he was and whether I would have proceeded with my life in a different fashion. To those who say "who needs art" I can only counter those who need air. I think I get the art thing, and could easily move people, unlike in my present profession that feeds me.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ron Boise took me to Ed's place in the Hollywood
hills in 1958 or 59. Ron was a huge admirer of
Kienholz and the conversation between the two
was facinating. I have always felt priveledged to
have been there and to have seen all the "junk'
Ed had collected before it was turned into art.
By-the-way this particular house was up a very
steep old wooden stairway and definitely just a

K.C. Gavin

11:18 AM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

I wrote this post three years ago, and it still is getting comments (due solely to the subject, not to my writing). Anyway, I want to thank Anonymous and K.C. Gavin for your comments. Since I wrote this post, I started an art blog and have occasionally mentioned Keinholz there. If you're interested, the posts that mention him can be found here:

11:12 AM  

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