Nancy Reddin Kienholz, an artist best known for elaborate and explosive installations she created with her husband Edward Kienholz, died on Wednesday at age 75. After her husband’s death in 1994, Kienholz continued making work in a similar vein of assemblage sculpture, collage, and installation, while also branching out into holographic art. The couple's solo works and their collaborative output are shown by Los Angeles’s L.A. Louver gallery, which confirmed the news of her death to the Los Angeles Times.
Born in Los Angeles in 1943, Kienholz was working as a photojournalist in 1972, when she met Edward at a party. He had recently completed his most iconic work, Five Car Stud (1969–72), a nightmarish life-size installation featuring four cars and a pick-up truck arranged around a scene in which six white men hold down and prepare to castrate a black man. The previous decade, another of Edward’s elaborate installations involving a car, Back Seat Dodge ‘38 (1964)— depicting a couple’s sexual encounter in the titular vehicle—became a sensation when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors threatened to withhold funding from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) if it displayed the work.
“I knew who he was—you could not not have known who Ed Kienholz was,” Kienholz said, recalling their first meeting, in an interview with The Guardian in 2009. She added:
Ed taught me everything I know about art and we worked together for 24 hours a day. [Art] was more important for him than he or I or our children, and once that was clear, it became our focus and it was fun.
In her solo work, Kienholz took a somewhat more pared down approach, creating assemblage sculptures and collages that called into question stereotypes related to gender roles, family structures, and identity. Her holographic works sought to break down false dichotomies by juxtaposing contrasting words and images, like the figures of Jesus and Buddha, or the words “bigoted” and “tolerant.”
In addition to maintaining her own practice, Kienholz spent the 25 years since Edward’s death restoring some of their most elaborate sculptural installations. She spent three years working on Five Car Stud before it went back on display at the LACMA in 2011. In a video interview with the museum filmed on the occasion, Kienholz said:
I sort of felt like it came inside my soul when I was working on it, so I was very upset. [. . .] That there was this hatred and ugliness here in my country, and I think it’s still there, I don’t think it’s gone. Maybe it’s not spoken of in the same way, but it’s alive and well.
In October, L.A. Louver will open an exhibition devoted to another of Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s large-scale sculptures, The Merry-Go-World or Begat By Chance and the Wonder Horse Trigger (1988–92).