Mobilize yourself. Come travel but forgo aesthetic or metaphorical niceties. Its a bumpy ride in the early days of conceptual art especially one aimed to outrage, aimed at the perceived social castration, aimed at a nightmarish urban vision. Disaffection personified that reflected Ginsberg’s Howl and Kerouac’s On the Road by using vernacular idioms and the outright ugly to stab and hammer at social hypocrisy.
Open the door of Ed Keinholz’s Back Seat Dodge-’38 and, in a blaze of triggered light and mirrors, you are transformed from viewer to voyeur. The interior of the truncated car is filed with cigarettes, beer bottles, and features, “flagrante delicto” , a partial plaster girl in the embrace of a chicken wire youth. At the time, the experience was very unnerving. It still is in this mass of contradictions: art, politics, crime and pornography embedded as a discourse against the Society of the Spectacle and the commodified entertainment complex. The original exhibit in the mid 1960′s proceeded only with the car door closed. It is evident that this style has been commercially exploited in advertising resulting in the misogyny and sexism justly criticized as cheap versions of “the shock of the new.”
The irony, if it is possible to impose still another level upon Keinholz’s assemblages, collages of scrap, was that the artist was convinced he had executed a series of static morality plays, or what he termed three dimensional social cartoons. His Dodge effectively destroys the aura of romantic nonsense that had bee fed to the public about the car makers complicity with our intimate notion of mobile privacy.
The intention behind Kienholz’s social tableau was to confront the public with the frailties in what he considered an unnatural urban environment, playing on his own image building persona as rural farmer who collected guns, hunted, milked cows etc as messianic figure born out of American mythology and would throw urban femininity as a form of perversion back to the viewer.
( see link at end) : …He explained: “I went in [to baggage claim] and told them that I had this lampshade, how I had with great reluctance shipped it through, and that I wanted to open it there and be sure it was okay. Of course, I opened it, and it was busted.” After having the lampshade appraised, Kienholz submitted a formal reimbursement claim with TWA, only to have the airline refuse payment and accuse him of fraudulently packing a broken item in the hopes of recovering a cash settlement. More disturbed at being called a liar than by the loss of the lamp, Kienholz threatened an airline customer service representative that if the matter was not resolved by the time he returned to LA from an exhibition out of town, he would enact equal damage to TWA as the airline had caused him. While waiting for the airline’s response, Kienholz consulted with an attorney (who encouraged the artist not to take justice into his own hands), then returned to LAX with a typewritten letter, a photographer, and an ax. Kienholz’s letter bluntly stated: “Good morning, my name is Ed Kienholz…you broke my lampshade and I’m really unhappy…so I’m going to cause TWA an equal amount of damage. I’m going to destroy a desk for TWA.” This is exactly what Kienholz proceeded to do; he destroyed the desk and, somehow, made it back to his car before being apprehended by the Los Angeles Police Department. Though cited and fined for disturbing the peace, Kienholz was eventually reimbursed, and vindicated, for the lampshade through a small claims court victory against the airline, and no further charges were filed or pursued. Throughout the incident, Kienholz not only documented his actions through photographs and writing, he also garnered and exploited a tremendous amount of local and national media attention. He summarized the incident as follows: “It takes a lot of eUp, up and away’ ads to overcome the humorous, negative publicity TWA got out of that. They would have been a lot better off to not call me a liar.”
The so-called “TWA Incident” is the perfect starting point to readdress issues of the art historical construction of Kienholz. Most art historians utilize the story, along with other anecdotes and biographical material, as evidence of the artist’s pragmatic sense of justice and his frontiersman, maverick mentality. Interestingly, these character traits parallel characterizations of the artist’s work. As written of the incident in the exhibition catalog to Kienholz’s 1996 posthumous retrospective: “With his ax he made a gashed work of art out of a TWA steel desk. His rage was always acted out on the object which was faulty or which was a representation of some injustice that was not being handled responsibly.” Such conceptions of the artist and his work overlook the significant planning, deliberateness, and concern for documenting a seemingly unplanned action and, instead, present these actions as the product of a bold and spontaneous artist. Exemplary of such characterizations of the artist and his art, Time art critic Robert Hughes wrote, “Kienholz didn’t believe in refinement. What he believed in was a combination of technical know-how, moral anger and all-American yawp.” In such histories, the artistis aggressiveness overshadows his incredible self-awareness, media acumen, and performative self-presentation.Read More:http://x-traonline.org/past_articles.php?articleID=48