Art Market

The Startling $2.5-Million Car Sculpture Driving Conversation at The Armory Show

Scott Indrisek
Mar 4, 2020 8:15PM

Edward and Nancy Kienholz, The Caddy Court, 1986-1987. Courtesy of the Estate of Nancy Reddin Kienholz and L.A. Louver.

This year’s Armory Show will have a dark heart, full of death and decay.

That’s not a cynical reflection on the state of the art market, but rather a statement of fact—thanks to The Caddy Court (1986–87), a sculpture by Ed and Nancy Reddin Kienholz that will have pride of place in the so-called “Town Square” of Pier 94. The large-scale, very-mixed-media work—which consists of a modified, working automobile housing a morbid menagerie of taxidermied animals—will be a literal centerpiece of the fair.

The Kienholzes were never known for being easy. (Ed passed away in 1994, Nancy in 2019; their long-time gallery L.A. Louver now manages their estate.) Perhaps Ed’s best-known work is Five Car Stud (1969–72), a masterpiece that debuted at Documenta 5 in 1972 and is currently owned by the Prada Foundation. Plenty of installations call themselves “immersive,” but this one upped the ante in truly uncomfortable ways—it’s a horrorshow of racial violence, a nightmare scenario made material.


When Ed and Nancy met in the early 1970s, they began working as a team, sharing a similarly bleak and enlightening vision of the 20th century. The Caddy Court was one of their collaborative works. If it lacks the sheer brutality of Five Car Stud, it’s still a challenging, raw, and consciously ugly spectacle.

The Caddy Court is quite large, incredibly detailed, and both seductive and repugnant in its form and material choice,” said Anne Ellegood, curator of The Armory Show’s Platform selection, of which the work will be a part. “It asks tough questions about the state of American democracy and what kind of country we want to live in.”

To make the sculpture’s main structure, a 1966 Dodge van was welded into the middle of a 1978 Cadillac. Inside the resulting Frankenstein-style vehicle, there’s a haunting scene intended to evoke a bizarro version of the U.S. Supreme Court—the justices reimagined as animals, including a ram and a bear.

When the installation was created, Sandra Day O’Connor sat on the Supreme Court, the first woman in history to do so. The Kienholzes acknowledged her presence by adding a red high-heeled shoe beneath one of the taxidermied figures. (O’Connor, if you’re wondering, is represented as a coyote.)

A road-worthy sculpture

Edward and Nancy Kienholz, The Caddy Court, 1986-1987. Courtesy of the Estate of Nancy Reddin Kienholz and L.A. Louver.

The work nods to the early days of the Supreme Court, when justices literally traveled around the country, from town to town. A collection of corporate law books line the walls of the eerie interior. The mood is ghoulish; a viewer peeking her head into the installation couldn’t help but feel silently judged by this menagerie.

Moving the work presents logistical challenges, but it’s worth reiterating that the sculpture is actually functional in the automotive sense. In addition to being a car aficionado, Ed was also a crack carpenter—and, it seems, something of a control freak when it came to how his and Nancy’s works were stored, shipped, and displayed. Rather than leaving the minutiae of lighting up to exhibiting institutions, L.A. Louver explained, the couple made sure that each of their tableaux came with their own carefully calibrated set-up.

The Kienholzes used to drive The Caddy Court around the country from exhibition to exhibition. The gallery, of course, is not driving the work to New York; after consulting with colleagues at the Petersen Automotive Museum, L.A. Louver hired a professional auto-transport service to bring the car from Idaho (where the Kienholz estate’s storage is) to the East Coast.

Edward Kienholz, Back Seat Dodge ‘38, 1964. © Estate of Nancy Reddin Kienholz. Courtesy of L.A. Louver and Collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

If all went well, though, they did plan to drive the work onto Manhattan’s Pier 94, where it was parked at its temporary home inside The Armory Show. “They’re building the fair around this piece,” claimed Peter Goulds, founding director of L.A. Louver. “It’ll be the first piece brought in, and the last piece to leave.”

Cars themselves are a recurring motif, both in the work Ed Kienholz made as a solo artist and the collaborative installations he and Nancy created. His Back Seat Dodge ’38 (1964) was a lurid and voyeuristic sculpture that invited viewers to peer into a scene of decrepit lust: teenage romance by way of a slasher-film aesthetic. Jody, Jody, Jody (1993–94) is more enigmatic, but just as disturbing. A Dodge pickup cruises down a highway cluttered with 18-wheelers, while dangerously close by, a small child peers through a chainlink fence.

Why the fixation on automobiles? It was partly personal, Goulds explained. When Ed Kienholz decided to move from Idaho to Los Angeles, he stopped in Las Vegas, where he found work as a used-car salesman. Cars, the dealer said, would remain a lifelong passion until the very end: Ed was actually buried in a 1940 Packard.

How much to drive it off the lot?

L.A. Louver is offering The Caddy Court at The Armory Show for $2.5 million, which the gallery says is on the low end for Kienholz installations of a larger scope; more expansive pieces might sell for upwards of $5 million. Of course, the kinds of collectors with the resources—not to mention the space—to care for such a piece are few and far between.

Kienholz aficionados looking for an even more epic experience than The Caddy Court would do well to cross the East River to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, during Armory Week. There, at the recently opened Faurschou Collection, they’ll find The Ozymandias Parade (1985), a wild sculpture buzzing with military bombast and violence.

“In anticipation of museum exhibitions worldwide, the Kienholzes made sure their artworks were—relatively—‘easy’ to install,” said Danish collector Jens Faurschou. “It took our team four days to install it with help from the Kienholzes’ studio. The piece is fitted into 22 crates that Kienholz had made back in 1985 to house and protect the components. The installation process itself is fascinating—and even the crates are fantastic.”

But other interested parties don’t have many options left if they want to get their hands on a major, large-scale piece by Ed and Nancy Kienholz. Goulds said there are only three large sculptures, or tableaux, remaining with the estate. Others are owned by museums around the world—including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, and the National Gallery in Berlin, which he estimated holds the greatest number of pieces by the artists.

Has there ever been a discussion of a dedicated Kienholz museum, I wondered—a place where these brutal, intensely orchestrated sculptures could be appreciated en masse? “If you find us the person who will finance such a thing,” Goulds said, “we would adore doing that.”

For now, and through March 8th, The Caddy Court will be parked at The Armory Show, where it seems destined to cause traffic jams.

Scott Indrisek

Correction: A previous version of this article listed the incorrect price for “The Caddy Court.” The text has been updated to reflect the correct price.

Thumbnail : Edward and Nancy Kienholz, “The Caddy Court,” 1986-1987. Courtesy of the Estate of Nancy Reddin Kienholz and L.A. Louver.