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Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959 – 1971, III: Tableaux in Three Dimensions: Kienholz’s Social Theater at Ferus and Dwan

Alex Potts, Max Loehr Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan. For the public symposium held on November 19, 2016, in conjunction with the exhibition Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959 – 1971 at the National Gallery of Art, Alex Potts explains how new exhibition spaces and the experimental staging of work at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and Virginia Dwan’s bicoastal galleries gave Edward Kienholz an opportunity in the early and mid-1960s to realize his large-scale tableaux. The powerful effect these works had on the viewer was not just formal, as in minimalist art, or simply a result of their often-provocative, in-your-face presentation, but was also related to deep undercurrents of socially and politically charged content. Eventually this set the tableaux at odds with the prevailing climate of the American art world and its increasingly systematic bracketing of a politics of content in favor of a politics of form. Virginia Dwan’s active promotion of some of Kienholz’s more ambitious, highly charged tableaux — including The Beanery, which she showed in 1965, and the disturbing State Hospital, shown in her exhibition of his concept tableaux in 1967 — testifies to a particularly rich moment in her take-up of new art. Later Kienholz found himself having to shift the installation of ambitious new work from New York and Los Angeles to venues in Europe.