Edward Kienholz's assemblage "End of the Bucket of Tar With Speaker Trail No. 2" dates from 1974, just after he moved to Berlin where his iconoclastic work found more favor than it had in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, this period of his work is poorly represented in Southern California's museums--which is one reason the Newport Harbor Art Museum recently acquired this piece for its permanent collection.
A farm boy from Washington state, Kienholz moved to Los Angeles in 1953 and worked at numerous jobs--orderly, used car dealer, vacuum cleaner salesman, commercial gallery owner--while developing his approach to art. He rummaged through junk shops and swap meets to find stuff that said something to him about the way people live and the attitudes they have.
In Germany, his collector's instincts led him to a tub that may have belonged to an embalmer and a cache of snapshots in an album. The tub serves as the base of this piece. The reddish, cracked photographs, arranged in a cruciform shape on the tub's plastic lid, document moments from the life of a German soldier: in uniform, drinking with a buddy, at a dinner party, observing deployment of tanks, eyeing a buxom girl in a field.
A bashed-in radio speaker also sits on top of the tub. Inside, on a pile of rubble, a working speaker broadcasts an indistinct blend of sounds, from a radio tuned between two stations. Standing at the head of the tub, an old lamp with a bare bulb and a hunk of matted fur suggests a shower head.
The piece brings to mind the horrible banality of a concentration camp fixture discovered years after it has ceased to function. The grim anti-nostalgia of the piece is reinforced by the visual reminders of German leadership and the buzzing frustration of sound that can't be made into sense.
In addition to Kienholz's piece, Newport Harbor has acquired paintings by Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode and Gene Davis for the permanent collection.
Ruscha's "Pine Setting" (1988) silhouettes a ground-hugging '50s-style house and a pine tree against a pale black sky. A sleek white bar that glides across the top of the canvas dips into a little notch that mimics the notch in the roof of the house--a quintessential Ruscha touch.
Ruscha, who is based in Los Angeles, is well known for his clean-lined, bright paintings that neatly sum up a vernacular American style (like "Standard Station With 10-Cent Western") or spell out individual words with oddly meaningful styles of lettering. The museum already owns an earlier painting by the artist ("Annie"), 10 of his prints and two other works on paper.
Goode's "Untitled (Milk Bottle Painting)" from 1961-62 is one of his classic Pop images: a real, brown-painted milk bottle casting its "shadow" (actually an unpainted area of the tan canvas). Davis' "Oxford" (1959) is one of his early stripe paintings. The artist, then 39, painted this crisp, austere work while he was still working as a newspaperman in Washington.
These works and other new acquisitions will be displayed in a permanent collection exhibit later this year. Dates of the show have not been set.
The Newport Harbor Art Museum is at 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission: $1 to $3. Information: (714) 759-1122.