Edward Kienholz

Research: Nelly Bright

Date of Birth:  October 23, 1927  Fairfield, Washington

Died:     June 10, 1994. Hope, Idaho

Residence:  Houston, Texas   - Hope, Idaho & Berlin, Germany

Field: Installation art – Sculpture – “CONCEPTUAL ARTIST”.

Training: Self-taught

Heinholz is an Installation artist whose work has been highly critical of aspects of modern life.

His family were farmers of Swiss descent. They were good hard-working Protestants.  His father had aspirations for him to become a doctor, however, in him was a curios  mixture of liberalism, anarchism and self-reliance. He grew during the Depression, his family did not suffer as they grew their own food and by bartering they augmented their livelihood.

Ed Keinholz studied art to the limited extent of a rural High School program but he liked drawing. Drafting teaches you not only the mechanics but one is also learning how things function, how they are held together. The kind of drawing Keinholz did helped him schematize the most complicated plans.

He was caught in the Korean War but took a pacific stand and became a draft dodger as a deliberate act for his values and faith. He was never caught but covered a lot of ground over the next seven years. He went to Chicago, then Minneapolis where he saw a Rembrandt exhibition which persuaded him that at some point he would become an artist. He took all sorts of jobs from running the blackjacks in Las Vegas and managed jobs.  

He ended in Los Angeles and set up a studio on Santa Monica Boulevard, below Hollywood,  where he could do the kind of work he wanted and live cheaply. He could not believe the things that people threw away instead of repairing them. Instead of buying art supplies he made collages of found objects  on surfaces of plywood or other boards.

Many of the artists of that time  thought of themselves as workers, making art was their job. Franz Kline looked like a steelworker,  de Kooning a workman, Kienholz a lumberjacks and they identified themselves with the working class.

He married, Nancy Reddin Kienholz, his collaborator and together they went to flea markets all over the world and looked for something that had magic to bring  home.  Nancy says Ed, liked bartering. With these found materials they created life-size sculptures and entire environments which in turn made sardonic social commentary.

They moved to  Houston, With its trove of garage sales and junk shops was  a good place for the Kienholzes, they only spent three years there. Several of the Kienholz’s works were started in Houston and completed in Idaho among them 103 items included in the comprehensive exhibit “Kienholz A Retrospective” that was  originated in February 1996 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

The retrospective second showing was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The retrospective  last venue was in Germany at the Berlinische Galerie.

Kienholz had also his detractors. Hilton Kramer of the New York Observer labeled the Kienholz retrospective as” another jolly rape of the public’’s sensibilities” and “upchuck” and “disgusting”. Cecile  Whiting, UCLA Associate Professor of Art History said “ it makes it uncomfortable for the audience. ”Voyeurisme is a theme that runs throughout  the Kienzolzes work”. “The audience is put into the position of “peering in on scenes that you would otherwise not have access to, whether its Back Seat Dodge or the State Hospital…” “While you’re a voyeur you’re also implicated in the piece.”

Nancy said : “Maybe it will get you thinking about people, and maybe a little more kind or a little friendlier  when you come across people that are in these positions.’

References:  -  Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego 1993 Catalogue

          Keinholz  A Retrospective – Edward and Nancy Kienholz.

- X-TRA Contemporary Art  Quarterly – Spring 2006

A Note from the Underworld, Walter Hopps