Biography of Edward and Nancy Kienholz
Collectively known as “Kienholz”, Edward and Nancy’s notoriously gritty assemblages of modern-day rubble are scathingly anti-establishment and utterly unique in tone. Deeply involved in the avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s and associated with San Francisco’s Funk Art movement, Kienholz’ work presents a searing critique of the inhumanity of the 20th century, confronting such issues as abortion, mental illness, and racial discrimination with shocking intensity.
Edward and Nancy Kienholz’ immersive mixed media installations use the obscene debris of contemporary society both literally in the form of found junkyard objects and metaphorically by calling on those emotions and urges that are repressed, rejected, and stigmatized. Exposing the filth of our society, these works employ shame and disgust in order to activate the viewer and elicit a response to the horrors of the modern age.
British art critic Brian Sewell noted that Edward Kienholz was “the least known, most neglected and forgotten American artist of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation of the 1950s, (…) his visual imagery at least as grim, gritty, sordid and depressing as their literary vocabulary”. Born in 1927, Kienholz was as dramatic and darkly satirical in death as he was in life, choosing to be buried in one of the artist pair’s installations in 1994—his embalmed body occupied a vintage Packard car and was joined by a deck of cards, a bottle of red wine, and the cremated remains of his pet dog. The car was then driven by Nancy (born in 1943) into the tomb to the sound of bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.
Edward and Nancy Kienholz’ widely acclaimed work has been exhibited in such internationally renowned museums as the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. They received a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1996, New York, which then travelled on to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin. Kienholz also participated in the Venice Biennale in 1990. The sheer scale of their installations are captured in their hard-hitting mixed media multiples.