Long hidden Kienholz to get LA show
First US exhibition of Five Car Stud, artist’s hard-hitting depiction of a lynching
By Helen Stoilas. Museums, Issue 223, April 2011
Published online: 31 March 2011
LOS ANGELES. Ed Kienholz’s disturbing installation, Five Car Stud, 1969-72, depicting a brutal racist attack is set to go on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) this October as part of the six-month-long Pacific Standard Time exhibition programme, run in cooperation with the J. Paul Getty Museum. The controversial work has been in storage for nearly 40 years in Japan and has never been publicly shown in the US.
The work was originally created by Kienholz in Los Angeles at the artist's home in Laurel Canyon before it was reassembled and photographed in the parking lot of Gemini GEL, an artists’ workshop and publisher. It consists of a group of five white figures in grotesque rubber masks tying down and castrating a black man. A white woman sits in the cab of a pickup truck vomiting, the implication being that the man is being lynched because of their inter-racial relationship. Viewers enter a darkened enclosure and walk directly on the dirt floor the tableau stands on, as if they are part of the installation. “It will disturb many people,” says Stephanie Barron, the senior curator of modern art at Lacma and the exhibition organiser. “It’s a provocative piece.”
The work was first exhibited at Documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972, organised by the late Swiss curator Harald Szeemann. It then travelled to Berlin and Düsseldorf before a Japanese collector acquired it. The work is now owned by the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Sakura, Japan.
“I saw it in 1972 at Documenta,” Barron remembers. “It has haunted me for so many years. Being able to see it come back to Los Angeles is kind of remarkable.”
The artist’s widow and collaborator, Nancy Reddin Kienholz, has been restoring Five Car Stud at their home in Idaho with a team of conservators and is due to start installing the piece in the museum this August. She says the work was in poor condition after spending decades in storage in Japan. “One of the figures is holding a shotgun, which is integral to his hand,” she says. “Someone had cut two inches out of the middle of the barrel, I guess to see if the shotgun was real.”
But it wasn’t only the physical labour that made the work tough to restore, it was also the subject matter. “It’s a very difficult piece,” says Reddin Kienholz. “It was depressing to have to work on it.”
Reddin Kienholz says that “you really need to be inside” Five Car Stud, unlike other Kienholz works, which she says viewers look in on. “You’re no longer just a voyeur, you’re a participant,” she says. “You will be confronted by it. Don’t expect to walk in it and be too comfortable. I find it scary and I’m used to it.” At Lacma visitors will enter Five Car Stud via an introductory gallery.
After Pacific Standard Time ends, the work will join the Getty’s exhibition “Greetings from LA: Artists and Publics 1945-80” when it travels to the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, followed by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark.
“I think showing the piece in Europe is going to provoke all kinds of discussions that wouldn’t have come up in 1972,” says Barron. When it first toured Europe, she says, many perceived race relations as a particularly American issue. “I think globally we are aware of a whole host of racial injustices that weren’t really part of the discourse in the 70s.”
Reddin Kienholz agrees: “We’re in such a strange time right now that I’m hoping it will open up a dialogue. Europeans won’t be able to say it’s an American problem anymore. You always hope we’re better people, but we’re not.”
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