2021 Ed and Nancy Kienholz


 

Edward and Nancy Kienholz: 
A Selection of Works from the Betty and Monte Factor Family Collection 

 

 

The late Ed Kienholz and his deceased wife Nancy Reddin Kienholz, the Factor’s one-time neighbors, are celebrated for their installations and sculptural assemblages that are controversial, graphic, and deeply critical of the politics of mid-twentieth century life in Europe and the United States. 

These large-scale, freestanding tableaux environments, built out of materials salvaged from junkyards and alleyways, survey the difficult truths of modern life often overlooked by artistic representation, including illegal abortion, prostitution, racism, and mental illness. In 1973, the couple moved to Berlin and had a deep and longstanding connection to the city, regularly visiting its shops and flea markets to find objects for their thought-provoking installations.

The collection encapsulates both the friendship and patronage between the artist and two of his most steadfast collectors, Betty and Monte Factor. The show provides a glimpse of rarely seen pieces by one of the most important artist duos of the twentieth century, but also an historic record of the Factors’ patronage of early contemporary art in Los Angeles.

Kienholz began his career as a painter amidst the burgeoning Los Angeles art scene of the late 1950s. In 1957, with the curator Walter Hopps, he co-founded the celebrated Ferus Gallery that soon became the city’s epicenter of avant-garde art. He spent the 1960s developing his freestanding sculptural works into increasingly monumental tableaux, which quickly gained international renown. In 1972, he met his wife and collaborator Nancy Reddin, initiating a long and fruitful working relationship that lasted the rest of his life. They established studios in both Berlin and Hope, Idaho — not far from his hometown and close to his friends Betty and Monte Factor. The Factors accumulated the art piece by piece from their artist neighbors.

In direct preparation for their life-sized environments, the Kienholzes made smaller assemblages that echo both the subject matter and structure of the larger installations and exist as equally compelling works on their own. Ed called these ‘drawings’ and, as preliminary studies, they played an integral part in the production of the full-scale works. This exhibition in North Dakota brings together several ‘drawings,’ all related to major works by the Kienholzes. In addition, it presents early paintings — one with moving parts that presages Kienholz’s later three-dimensional endeavors — and an example from an important series of television sculptures from the late 1960s.

In Drawing for Five Car Stud (1969–72), Kienholz reproduces an image of his large-scale installation Five Car Stud, which he places into a car-door window as if the viewer were watching the horrific scene of a black man restrained and castrated by a group of white assailants. This controversial work details a violent episode of racism at the time and continues into the present day making the work as powerful today as it was in the early 1970s. Kienholz explained that the victim has been singled out by the perpetrators for drinking in the company of a white woman. She hides in one of the cars, vomiting. It is perhaps also her position that viewers occupy in Drawing for Five Car Stud.

Other drawings within the North Dakota exhibition correspond to large installations including Barney’s Beanery (1965), in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Still Live (1974), a major work about risk and contingency that was once banned by the German police; and A Portable War Memorial (1968) as well as Drawing for A Portable War Memorial, a work denouncing war and US international policy that is now in the collection of Museum Ludwig, Cologne. The exhibition also includes a major additional work that demonstrate the Kienholzes’ longstanding use of this innovative preparatory drawing practice: the riveting Drawing for the Caddy Court (1986), which serves as an ironic indictment of the US Supreme Court in the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. 

The Factors’ relationship with the work of Ed Kienholz dates back to their early involvement with liberal politics and, by extension, the Los Angeles art scene. In the 1960s, through art world luminary, Walter Hopps, and the seminal Ferus Gallery, they became staunch supporters of avant-garde contemporary art and lifelong friends of Ed. 

Describing how the Factors became patrons of Ed Kienholz, Monte recalls that in the early 1960s he and his wife scraped together a small amount of cash, as well as some clothes and an old boat, to buy one of the artist’s works. Some years later they purchased The Illegal Operation (1962), a powerful and important piece that was acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2008, but which the Factors had kept stored in a spare room for many years. In Monte’s words: “For thirty-five years we lived in homes and in a world irradiated by the art of Ed, Ed and Nancy, and now, Nancy. For us, Ed and Nancy found nobility, power and grace in the ordinary. They brought new levels of compassion and beauty into our lives.”

Ed Kienholz died in 1994 and Nancy Reddin Kienholz in 2019. 

The Factor collection is on long-term loan to the North Dakota Museum of Art where it extends the collection from a twentieth century era before the Museum began to collect — or even existed. 

 

Edward and Nancy Kienholz, "Drawing for Caddy Court", 1986.
Mixed media, 87 x 87 x 31 inches.

 

Edward and Nancy Kienholz, "Drawing for Still Live", 1974.
Mixed media, 76 x 92 x 33 inches.

 

Edward and Nancy Kienholz, "Drawing for Five Car Stud", 1969.
Mixed media, variable dimensions. Detail view.

 

Edward and Nancy Kienholz, "Still Life with Little Bird", 1974.
Mixed media, 79 x 22 x 24 inches.

 

Edward and Nancy Kienholz, "Television Set", 1967.
Mixed media, 14 x 9 x 13 inches.