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Edward Kienholz

American, 1927 - 1994

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Biography

Edward Kienholz' art is his indictment of what he saw as the hypocrisy and immorality of contemporary life. Born in Fairfield, Washington, he grew up on a farm in the eastern part of the state, learning carpentry and mechanical skills in his youth. After a series of odd jobs, Kienholz settled in Los Angeles, where he became involved in the arts.

Together with other avant-garde artists in the area, he opened art galleries, the most notable of which was the Ferus Gallery. Despite his lack of formal artistic training, he began to employ his mechanical and carpentry skills in making collage paintings and reliefs assembled from materials salvaged from the alleys and sidewalks of the city. In 1960 he withdrew from the Ferus Gallery to concentrate on his art, creating free-standing, large-scale environmental tableaux. Kienholz' assemblages of found objects--the detritus of modern existence, often including figures cast from life--are at times vulgar, brutal, and gruesome, confronting the viewer with questions about human existence and the inhumanity of twentieth-century society. Because of their satirical and antiestablishment tones, his works have often been linked to the funk art movement based in San Francisco in the 1960s.

In the early 1970s, Kienholz received a grant that permitted him to work in Berlin with his wife and collaborator, Nancy Reddin. Their work has been widely acclaimed, particularly in Europe. In 1973, Kienholz and Reddin moved from Los Angeles to Hope, Idaho and for the next twenty years they divided their time between Berlin and Idaho. Kienholz died in Idaho in 1994.

[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]

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