Now through July 14, Blain Southern London presents America My Hometown, an exhibition dedicated to the formative years of Edward Kienholz’s career in mid-century America. The works in the exhibition span the years of 1954-1967, at which point Kienholz was living and working in Los Angeles. This historical period was hugely significant for the position of the United States and the spread of capitalism globally, to which Kienholz responded directly in his work. The pieces produced by the artist during this time reflect a concern with the political turmoil and social anxiety that marked the political and social circumstances in which he lived.
As the press release states, this work “is direct and raw in its execution, as well as unsparingly critical of the political problems of twentieth-century America.” This is evident in one of his earliest works, which reveals the artist’s initial intentions to become a painter. One Day Wonder Painting (1954) marks the starting point for this body of work, through which one can witness the artist’s transition from painting to assemblage and installation. Kienholz developed a language out of his ability to transform found materials, including discarded furniture and taxidermy, into forms that came to articulate a fierce critique of the inequalities and hypocrisy of American life at this moment in time. In The Little Eagle Rock Incident (1958), Kienholz directly referenced the race riots that took place in Arkansas Central High School the previous year. This piece also marked a shift from construction paintings to assemblage, in which the artist employed taxidermy for the first time.
Beginning in the 1960s, Kienholz’s work begins to demonstrate more conceptual and performative aspects. During this decade, Kienholz began to poke fun at his relationship with his collectors, by framing the sale and receipt of his works as challenges or exchanges that highlighted the absurdity of the art market. In The American Way II (1960), for example, Kienholz parodies capitalism by selling a veiled painting to a collector with half the work paid for upfront, with the condition that it be veiled for ten years. If the work was unveiled before this time period had passed, the collector would pay the full price for the painting and return the work to the artist. In his Concept Tableaux (1963-1967), descriptions of ambitious, imagined artworks are framed and supplemented with a payment plan for various stages of their anticipated construction. None of the Tableux were ever realized.
America My Hometown presents a body of work that captures the social anxiety and political tension of mid-century America. This fascinating moment in the country’s history can be seen as refracted and assembled through Kienholz’s scathingly critical vision. This exhibition proves extremely topical for the artist’s approach to the absurdity of the art world, as well as the historical moment his assemblages and Tableaux respond to. From 1972 onwards, Kienholz produced work exclusively in collaboration with his partner, Nancy Reddin Kienholz. Today, as a result of the pieces they produced together and individually, they are considered two of the most important figures in post-war art.
Exhibition Page [Blain Southern]