LYN KIENHOLZ may be the most important macher in the Los Angeles art world you've never heard of. She can seem innocuous in her sensible sandals and faded pink Chateau Marmont sweatshirt. But the names on the 3-by-5 cards she keeps in old library file drawers will make your eyes spin.
Attend one of her dinner parties and you'll find yourself at a large oaken table, seated, perhaps, between actor Bob Hoskins and the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, across from an opera producer and an 85-year-old Beverly Hills patron of contemporary music.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Gallery locations -- An article in Sunday's Calendar section about art figure Lyn Kienholz said that the Huysman and Ferus galleries were on La Brea Boulevard. They were on La Cienega Boulevard.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 05, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Gallery locations -- An article last Sunday about art figure Lyn Kienholz said that the Huysman and Ferus galleries were on La Brea Boulevard. They were on La Cienega Boulevard.
From years of such gatherings, and the happy creative collisions that inevitably result, have come lifelong friendships, major art exhibits, book projects and even new institutions -- L.A. Opera was conceived here.
This artful matchmaking goes back to the days of her marriage to Ed Kienholz, the late Los Angles sculptor and assemblage maker, and it's led her to a host of cultural "assemblages" of her own. She was advisor for the 1998 show "Sunshine and Noir: Art in L.A., 1960-1997" at the UCLA Hammer Museum, and organized an exhibit about L.A. architects Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, Fred Fisher and Koning Eizenberg -- "Architecture for the New Millennium" -- that traveled to Macao, Taiwan and mainland China.
Most recently, she's acted as "sherpa" -- part organizer, part facilitator, part innkeeper -- for "Los Angeles 1955-1985," the upcoming exhibition of works by more than 80 Los Angeles artists at the Pompidou Center.
As the idea for the show took shape, say Pompidou officials, there was no question she'd be directly involved in making it happen. As Ann Goldstein, senior curator of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art -- a major contributor of works for the show -- puts it, "Museum directors from around the world call Lyn first when they come to L.A."
Though Kienholz characteristically downplays her work on the show, saying, "I'm just the schlepper," in fact, she recommended artists to consider, escorted the Pompidou curator during her trips to Los Angeles and smoothed logistics.It was just the sort of behind-the-scenes role she's been perfecting for decades.
Once, art was incidental
"LYN helped birth the L.A. art scene," says Henry Hopkins, former director of UCLA's Hammer and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, who's known Kienholz for "years and years and years." They met in the late 1950s, when Hopkins opened the Huysman Gallery on La Brea across from Walter Hopps and Ed Kienholz's Ferus Gallery -- L.A.'s first avant-garde gallery to deal exclusively with West Coast art.
Lyn was gallery sitter at Ferus, a day job she took to help support her hoped-for career in theater and film. Art was incidental to her -- "I had been in a museum exactly once until I left home," she says. She'd grown up in a "meat and potatoes family" in Evanston, Ill., then gone to school outside Washington, D.C. (Sullins College and Maryland College for Women), done some modeling and followed her attraction to the theater.
"I wasn't so much interested in acting as I was in producing," she says. "The producer gets control." But that route was blocked in Hollywood, she says, by rules impeding women from the guilds. So she turned her attention to the nascent L.A. art world, starting with the Ferus artists."Many of the guys would come over to our house because my roommate, painter Marcia Hafif, and I knew how to cook," Kienholz explains in her intense, high-pitched voice. "The guys" being the likes of Hopps, Hopkins, painter Richards Ruben and, of course, Ed Kienholz.
"It was an interesting time for Ed and Lyn," Hopkins recalls. "They seemed like a very unlikely couple. Ed was a big burly person and then there was Lyn, with all her interests. We all wondered if it would last." For a while it did. Lyn and Ed got together and soon acquired a former Nubian goat farm and speak-easy at the top of Laurel Canyon -- where they set up a house and a studio for Ed.
More gregarious than Ed, Lyn actively championed his art, such as the infamous 1964 work "Back Seat Dodge '38" -- a truncated car with male and female mannequins in the back seat engaged in heavy petting among empty beer bottles.
Their place, above the Chateau Marmont, was near the old, funky brown clapboard house in which the Byrds lived. The two Kienholz kids (from his previous marriages) went to Wonderland Avenue School, one canyon over, with the children of Carole King and Cheech and Chong. "It was a great time," Kienholz says, eyes twinkling. And when she and Ed split up, she got her own place -- taking the rousing social scene with her.