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Artists Edward Kienholz
Edward Kienholz Photo

Edward Kienholz

American Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Neo-Dada, Funk Art

Born: October 23, 1927 - Fairfield, Washington

Died: June 10, 1994 - Hope, Idaho

Edward Kienholz Timeline


"A brush is not a tool that I am naturally attuned with. But I understand an electric drill very well."
Edward Kienholz
"I still think of myself as a farmer. A part of me still thinks in those terms. I think in terms of seasons as farmers do."
Edward Kienholz
"I've been purposely cantankerous. I think that's just part of the fun of it. If it were all serious, I couldn't take it."
Edward Kienholz
"I don't think of myself as an artist. I'm an artist, I'm a carpenter, I'm a mechanic, you know, a mother, a dad-I'm like all things."
Edward Kienholz

"I mostly think of my work as the spoor of an animal that goes through the forest and makes a thought trail, and the viewer is the hunter who comes and follows the trail. At one point I as the trail-maker disappear. The viewer then is confronted with the dilemma of ideas and directions."

Edward Kienholz Signature


An American artist of unwavering originality, critical insight, and notoriety, Edward Kienholz created powerful work that reflected upon contemporary social and political issues of late-20th-century America. He created life-size three-dimensional tableaux and immersive environments, composed out of the discarded detritus he found at yard sales and flea markets. Although he is best known for his contributions to the development of postwar sculptural practices, Kienholz was also a key promoter of the Los Angeles avant-garde as the founder of the NOW Gallery and cofounder of the Ferus Gallery, a pivotal venue and gathering place for the era's emerging poets and artists. From 1972 onward, he worked almost exclusively with his fifth wife, the artist Nancy Reddin Kienholz, who played a significant role in the conceptualization and fabrication of his later works.

Key Ideas

In the 1960s Kienholz took an even grittier approach to his materials than his predecessors by utilizing discarded objects that appeared grimy and damaged. In large-scale installations with life-sized figures and built environments, Kienholz made his work physically and emotionally immersive, breaking down the comfort zone between the art and its audience.
Echoing the degraded, filthy quality of his materials, his sculptures and tableaux often evoke American society's sexual prudery, political corruption, moral hypocrisy, and oppression of marginalized groups. These works are designed to evoke complicated responses of revulsion and guilt, often making viewers feel complicit in their atrocities.
Due to its controversial subject matter and its unflinching portrayals of sex and violence, Kienholz's work was frequently the target of debates over obscenity and the appropriate use of public funding for the arts, foreshadowing discussions about contemporary art that still continue to this day.


Edward Kienholz Photo

Early Life

Edward Kienholz was born in Fairfield, Washington to a conservative, working-class family of Swiss descent. He grew up on his parents' wheat farm, where he learned the crafts of metalwork, carpentry, and automobile mechanics. The skills that he acquired as a farmer and the surrounding environment of the rural Northwest would come to inform his later artwork, which incorporates themes of working-class America and displays his deft technical ability.

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Edward Kienholz Biography Continues

Important Art by Edward Kienholz

The below artworks are the most important by Edward Kienholz - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Illegal Operation (1962)
Artwork Images

The Illegal Operation (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: Made nearly a decade before the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion in the United States, The Illegal Operation depicts the scene of an abortion at a time when the procedure was practiced in secrecy, often in dangerous and unregulated conditions. This early sculpture, created out of found objects including a shopping cart, a wooden stool, and a standing lamp, is a prime example of Kienholz's Funk art assemblage. Its title hints at the taboo debate surrounding abortion rights, while its crudely hewn composition - with the cart reconfigured into a chair, the lampshade tilted askew, and the linens darkened with filth - suggests that something is clearly amiss. Through its visceral imagery, the sculpture draws attention to the country's problematic handling of the abortion issue during the middle of the 20th century. This piece was also based on Kienholz's personal experience of abortion, since his wife at the time had undergone the same procedure during this period and was forced to do so illegally. Like much of his later work, The Illegal Operation broaches a controversial topic while insisting that matters of political and social discourse are never unwarranted artistic subjects.

Polyester resin, pigment, shopping cart, wooden stool, concrete, lamp, fabric, basin, metal pots, blanket, hooked rug, and medical equipment - The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Back Seat Dodge '38 (1964)
Artwork Images

The Back Seat Dodge '38 (1964)

Artwork description & Analysis: When this work was displayed in Kienholz's 1966 solo show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it caused an uproar, leading some local authorities to call it pornographic and others to plead for its removal from the exhibition. The sculpture portrays a youthful couple engaged in sexual activity in a truncated 1938 Dodge coupe with its passenger seat door propped ajar. The woman, cast in plaster, lies across the seat with the man, formed out of chicken wire, lying on top of her; the two figures are surrounded by beer bottles. As Kienholz has noted, this piece represents an adolescent experience common to many young adults who grew up in the new age of the automobile and is based on his own early sexual experimentation. The work, which can only be seen by gazing through the open door, gives the sense that the viewer has intruded upon the scene as a voyeur. By embedding the scene within the car, dimly lit by the car's headlights and cab light, Kienholz engages simultaneous reactions of discomfort, revulsion, interest, and curiosity that evoke the mid-20th century American public's attitudes towards sexuality.

Paint, fiberglass and flock, 1938 Dodge, recorded music and player, chicken wire, beer bottles, artificial grass, and cast plaster figures - The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Beanery (1965)
Artwork Images

The Beanery (1965)

Artwork description & Analysis: The walk-in installation The Beanery is one of Kienholz's most admired works. Inspired by Barney's Beanery, a seedy pub located off the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles that was a famous hangout for celebrities, musicians, and artists, the work reconstructs a typical bar scene filtered through Kienholz's unwieldy lens. While the installation reconstructs the general layout of the pub, The Beanery is also surreal, featuring denizens with faces formed out of clocks, all of which are set to the same time of 10:10. Kienholz has noted that time is suspended in the installation to underscore the escapism of the bar's clientele; as he stated, "A bar is a sad place, a place full of strangers who are killing time, postponing the idea that they're going to die." Only the figure of Barney, the pub's owner, has a human face, which acts as an emblem of the merciless passage of time.

As one of Kienholz's most ambitious installations, this work also highlights the artist's prowess as a craftsman. The tableau, which includes seventeen individuals scattered throughout the scene, combines cast elements with found objects that have been cleverly woven together; some figures are engaged in private interactions, creating multiple simultaneous narratives that are united through the looped soundtrack of clinking glasses and laughter that plays whenever the installation is displayed. While Kienholz had previously created multiple-figure tableaux such as the seminal Roxy's (1960-61), this was the most technically intricate example of the installation format in his early career.

Multimedia installation - The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Edward Kienholz
Interactive chart with Edward Kienholz's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Jean TinguelyJean Tinguely
Claes OldenburgClaes Oldenburg
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg

Personal Contacts

Yves KleinYves Klein
Robert IrwinRobert Irwin
Wallace BermanWallace Berman
Bruce ConnerBruce Conner


Pop ArtPop Art
Funk ArtFunk Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art

Influences on Artist
Edward Kienholz
Edward Kienholz
Years Worked: 1953-94
Influenced by Artist


Damien HirstDamien Hirst
Paul McCarthyPaul McCarthy
Leon GolubLeon Golub
Duane HansonDuane Hanson
George SegalGeorge Segal

Personal Contacts

Nancy Reddin KienholzNancy Reddin Kienholz


Funk ArtFunk Art

Useful Resources on Edward Kienholz





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Kienholz Recomended resource

By Max Hollein and Martina Weinhart

On a Scale that Competes with the World: The Art of Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz Recomended resource

By Robert L. Pincus

Kienholz: A Retrospective

By Walter Hopps

Kienholz: Five Car Stud

By Michael Holm, Anders Kold, and Poul Erik Tojner

More Interesting Books about Edward Kienholz
Ed and Nancy Kienholz, The Hoerengracht, the National Gallery

By Kate Connolly
The Guardian
November 7, 2009

Good Morning, My Name is Ed Kienholz Recomended resource

By Damon Willick
Spring 2006

In Sunny Southern California, a Sculpture Finds Its Place in the Shadows Recomended resource

By Edward Wyatt
The New York Times
October 2, 2007

Putting Things All Together Recomended resource

By Kristine McKenna
The Los Angeles Times
October 31, 1993

More Interesting Articles about Edward Kienholz
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