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Edward Kienholz

American Sculptor

Edward Kienholz Photo
Movements and Styles: Neo-Dada, Installation Art

Born: October 23, 1927 - Fairfield, Washington

Died: June 10, 1994 - Hope, Idaho

"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

Summary of Edward Kienholz

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

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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