Los Angeles County Museum of Art Opens Edward Kienholz, Five Car Stud 1969-1972 Revisited

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents Edward Kienholz, Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited on view through January 15, 2012.

Five Car Stud (1969–72) graphically depicts the hatred and violence expressed by many Americans toward racial minorities and interracial partnerships. With this work Edward Kienholz tapped into the long history of white-on-black lynching in the United States. Set during a period of white anxiety about black power and riots in numerous inner cities, Five Car Stud reminds us today of the violence that undergirds all racial hierarchies. It is undoubtedly Kienholz’s most important work addressing civil rights.

Edward Kienholz, Five Car Stud 1969-1972, Revisited. Installation view. Photo: Tom Vinetz. ©Kienholz. Collection of Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Sakura, Japan. Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA and The Pace Gallery, New York

In this horrifying, though invented, environment, four automobiles and a pickup truck are arranged on a dirt floor in a dark room with their headlights illuminating a gruesome scene. Four white men are in the process of pinning down and stripping a black man in order to castrate him; presumably they have accosted the interracial couple in the truck, and are exacting their punishment on the black man. The figures were cast from life; the faces are covered with rubber masks. The victim is a composite of parts cast from three individuals shoved up against a central pan representing the torso. This container is filled with water, which is periodically agitated. The letters floating in it can be seen to recombine within the torso, spelling out a racial slur. Five Car Stud has been previously seen only in Germany in 1972 and has since remained in storage in Japan for almost forty years. Given the strides towards racial equity, including the near-disappearance of lynching and the growing rates of interracial marriage, why should Five Car Stud still matter? And why is it still so disturbing? The reappearance of the piece uncomfortably expands lynching’s audience, and forces us to reckon with lynching’s legacy in the here and now. As Kienholz reminds us, “If six to one is unfair odds in my tableau, then 170 million to 20 million is sure as hell unfair odds in my country.”

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