See how Cool School alum Ed Kienholz turned his fascination with the idiot box into art
By Christina Campodonico
“Kienholz: Televisions,” the new exhibition at L.A. Louver showcasing the late Ed Kienholz and his wife Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s series of television-inspired assemblage sculptures and tableaux, isn’t anything like you’ve seen on TV.
A snarling dog head bursts out of a beige TV screen. Ram horns coil ominously around a rusty metal chair; its skeletal eye sockets glued to an oozing yellow screen. A few figurine hens appropriate the inside of an old television set as their chicken coup.
Shirley Temple even makes an appearance, her smiling eyes ensconced and vacuum-packed into what looks to be a discarded plastic orange juice jug.
While critically-acclaimed shows on network and cable television have elevated TV to prestige status, these installations and sculptures by Cool School and Ferus Group alumnus Ed Kienholz, who died in 1994, and his collaborator-wife Nancy, who continues to make mixed media work, take the art of television to a whole new level of magnificent strangeness.
Kienholz, who rose to prominence in late ‘60s Los Angeles by mining junkyards and flea markets to create provocative and immersive art installations, had a conflicted relationship to the broadcast medium that flickered day and night at his home and in his studio.
“You may have guessed that I have long had a love/hate relationship with American TV,” wrote Kienholz in a letter to Sidney Felsen of the Gemini G.E.L. Gallery in 1984. “I sit dummy style in front of that marvelous communication tool and find my years slipping by and my mind turning to slush from the 95% trash being beamed my way. To try and understand my ongoing stupidity, and perhaps to express some kind of critical objectivity, I find that I keep making TV sets out of anything that vaguely resembles a TV apparatus (oil containers, block of concrete, surplus jerry cans, etc.).”
Comprised of such flotsam and jetsam, the exhibition features 13 works made collaboratively by Ed and Nancy Kienholz between the late 1960s and 1994. There’s also a 2006 solo work by Nancy that looks like the remains of a torched TV, seemingly incinerated by the fake fireplace burning in its belly.
“Kienholz: Televisions” is on view through April 2 at L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Call (310) 821-7529 or visit lalouver.com.