Kienholz: The Signs of the Times22 February – 13 May 2012
This radical approach was unparalleled in the history of art. Kienholz intended everyone to be able to get his message and therefore refrained from using an elitist visual language. His work comes across in a quite unusual and unaccustomed manner: with all its real elements it is close to everyday life and yet at the same time it points beyond. This was too much for respectable 1960s America, where the works were considered obscene and yet thousands thronged to Kienholz’s first big exhibition to savour the taste of scandal.
Edward Kienholz and Jean Tinguely first met in 1962, when Tinguely had an exhibition in the Everett Ellin Gallery in Los Angeles and his partner Niki de Saint Phalle mounted a “shooting picture” on 4 March. Tinguely and Kienholz acted as her assistants, laying the foundation for a close friendship. The two artists met frequently in the following two years, during which one important moment was certainly the shooting excursion that gave them the idea for the collaborative concept tableau The American Trip of 1966.
The tableau The Jesus Corner of 1982/83 likewise juxtaposes cosy bourgeois homeliness with the harsh realities beyond its world. In so doing it expresses and champions open-mindedness and tolerance towards society’s outsiders, loners and nonconformists. With its use of Christian devotional objects, the assemblage is symptomatic of Kienholz’s profound scepticism towards institutionalized religion, which finds its expression in mocking irony or open rebellion in different works.
Other works deal with sexual power and exploitation, presenting the utopia of liberated sexuality in opposition to the commodified sexuality of the brothel. Works such as The Pool Hall of 1993, The Rhinestone Beaver Peepshow Triptych or The Bronze Pinball Machine with Woman Affixed Also, both from 1980, mirror commercialized sex and advertising images of utmost banality, which have deeply embedded themselves in the society’s subconscious. In today’s world of YouPorn in which porn pictures are available at any time to virtually everyone, a pinball machine offering an outlet for impulses and urges nearly strikes us as belonging to some golden age. The perspective seems to be profoundly Protestant in this case and incessantly oscillates between exhibitionism and enlightening gesture.
One particular highlight of the exhibition will be the spectacular installation The Ozymandias Parade with its 687 blinking light bulbs (which in Basel are in Switzerland’s national colors red and white but are adapted accordingly wherever the work is mounted). The “Ship of Fools” in the form of a mirrored arrow is presented as a decadent parade symbolizing the abuse of political power. Whether the ominous-looking President of the parade will bear a YES or a NO over his face is determined by the public’s answers to the simple question: “Are you satisfied with your Government?” In the two weeks prior to the exhibition, visitors to the Internet page www.tinguely.ch/jajaneinnein can take part in the survey. The result of their voting then becomes apparent at the opening.
The exhibition Kienholz: The Signs of the Times is mounted by the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in cooperation with the Museum Tinguely Basel.
>> Accompanying film by Schirn Kunsthalle (22 October – 29 January 2012)