The White Cup, Nancy Reddin Keinholz, Edward Kienholz

Nancy Reddin Keinholz (American, born 1943) Edward Kienholz (American, 1927 - 1994) 

The White Cup, 1984-85 

Mixed-media (found objects, metal, plaster casts, paint and polyester resin) 

Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of Laila Twigg-Smith (TCM.1996.52) 

Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s mixed-media assemblages and installations expose the hard and unpleasant sides of society and humanity. They selected their materials from thrift stores, garage sales, and city streets, attracted by objects’ patinas of use and implied history, which give their works a powerful and unmitigated sense of immediacy and poignancy. 

The White Cup demonstrates the Kienholzes’ interest in social issues such as poverty and racism. The two figures incorporate black and white photographs of an African-American male applied to elements which revolve to reveal polished mirror-like surfaces that reflect back the image of the viewer, an admonishment that we should imagine ourselves in the person of these men, or perhaps suggesting that we are all essentially the same—human beings. The seated figure holds a mirror that doesn’t give back a reflection, symbolizing the loss of identity that society has enforced on him. The standing figure holds a ceramic cup, which in its color and broken state, may signify the failure of white American society with respect to the plight of many African Americans, as well as the hopelessness of the man’s situation (it is neither half full nor half empty; it can hold nothing).