Southern California from the Back Seat of a 1938 Dodge


Ed Kienholz, Back Seat Dodge ’38, 1964. Courtesy of LACMA

A new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “SoCal: Southern California Art of the 1960s and70s of the LACMA Collection,” provides an overview of that fertile period of art making in that region. The show includes work by Ed Kienholz, Bettye Saar, James Turrell, Billy Al Bengston, and many others. the exhibit runs through March 30, 2007.

In particular, the show presents Ed Kienholz’s once-controversial sculpture/installation “Back Seat Dodge ’38” from 1964 as it was originally intended to be seen. The work shows a couple, in flagrante delicto, in the back seat of said Dodge automobile. For years the work was displayed on a pedestal in the middle of well-lit gallery. For this show “Back Seat” has been installed as Kienholz envisioned, according the deceased artist’s wife:

”Ed always said that the best installation was one that would make it look like you came upon this couple at night, up at a necker’s spot on Mulholland Drive,” said Lyn Kienholz, who was married to the artist when he created the sculpture in 1964 and who sold it to the museum in 1981. ”It would only be illuminated by the car’s headlights and the light inside the car.”

”The radio would always be on, and the car would be surrounded by plants,” she added, as if the couple had tried to hide themselves in the weeds to avoid being found by the police or the prying eyes of others.

To achieve that effect, Carol S. Eliel, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, who organized the show and oversaw the new installation, placed the work in a small, dim alcove whose walls are painted dark gray. A four-foot doorway allows a viewer to see into the car’s interior but restricts the ability to see the entire car without peering around a corner or past plants.”

LACMA also has a history of the work available on their website.

Posted by: Ian M.

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