Ed Kienholz, assemblagist of the 1960's, co-founder of Ferus Gallery, is well-known in LA for his life-size recreation of the bar Barney's Beanery, complete with hard-drinking regulars, some of them modeled on artists and dealers. During Pacific Standard Time, his largely unknown installation "Five Car Stud" was shown at LACMA to great critical acclaim.
But after Kienholz married Nancy Reddin in 1972, they moved away from LA and established studios in Hope, Idaho, not far from eastern Washington, where Kienholz was raised, and West Berlin, Germany, where they went on a DAAD grant in 1973. The work produced in those two places between 1975 and 1979 has barely been seen until now. LA Louver, which represents the work, has a completely fascinating exhibition, Kienholz: Berlin/Hope on view through April 26.
Edward & Nancy Reddin Kienholz, "The Kitchen Table" (transitional version), 1975-77
Mixed media and bronze, 41 1/2 x 67 x 21 1/4 in. (105.4 x 170.2 x 54 cm)
© Kienholz. Courtesy of LA Louver, Venice, California
Kienholz always used the materials found in the trash, junk stores and alleys but the cast-offs of prosperous post-war LA differ greatly from those found in post-war Germany. At flea markets, the Kienholzes, who began working collaboratively, found a number of small Bakelite radios, dark brown boxes with a circular speaker in the center. Initially attracted by the simple design, they discovered that these Volksemfängers (the people's receivers) were produced and distributed by the Nazis for propaganda purposes. The Kienholzes incorporated these radios into a series of assemblages. For example, "Kitchen Table," bears a pair of them rest on the top of a cabinet facing each other and a sepia print of a long-haired nude woman with a white horse. The frame of a chair stands next to it. A floor pedal, when stepped upon, plays Act I, Scene 1 of Richard Wagner's Siegfried, the moment when the hero forges his magic sword.
Not coincidentally, the piece is cast partially in bronze. (A companion piece is cast entirely of bronze.) This is the material of commemorative sculpture, which these certainly are not though they do function as mnenomics. The symbolically charged radios are combined with washboards, electric lights, pieces of domestic furniture in relatively simple compositions of working class materials. Like the "Kitchen Table" pieces, each is wired so that when you step on a pedal, it plays a different fragment from Wagner's opera The Ring of the Nibelung. The effect is haunting, like a visitation from history, the elements and the sounds divorced from their origins and reconstituted with contemporary resonance.
Meanwhile, in Idaho, where they maintained the Faith and Charity Gallery in Hope to exhibit the work of artist friends, the Kienholzes completed a series of architectural sculptures called the "White Easel Series, 1977-79." Using materials left over from the building of their new home and studio, a lifelong process of Ed Kienholz, they created a surrogate of a wooden easel standing before a white cinderblock wall. To each easel construction, they added other elements such as electric lights, a wooden hand, a chrome fabric towel dispenser or, most disturbing, a dead elephant foot.
The two bodies of work demonstrate a straightforward approach that retains Kienholz's usual grit though executed in a less cluttered and more succinct manner. The show underscores the significance of Kienholz as an artist and brings to light, literally in these sculptures, the ways in which his work was altered by his relationship with Reddin and his life outside of LA.
Banner image: Edward & Nancy Reddin Kienholz, "Die Nornen," 1976; mixed media assemblage, 61 1/2 x 115 3/4 x 61 1/2 in. (156.2 x 294 x 156.2 cm); © Kienholz. Courtesy of LA Louver, Venice, California