Nancy Kienholz, 1943–2019

The self-taught artist, collaborator and wife of Ed Kienholz, has died

Nancy and Edward Kienholz, The Soup Course at the She-She Cafe, 1982, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy ICA, Miami

Nancy Reddin Kienholz, who, together with her husband and collaborator Ed, created elaborate installations and sculptural compositions which tackled American identity, gender roles and social violence, has died in Houston aged 75. The news was confirmed by LA Louver Gallery, which has represented the pair since 1981.

Reddin, who was born in California in 1943, worked as a photojournalist when she met Ed in 1972. Ed was a self-taught artist and avant-garde figure of the Los Angeles’s art scene, as well as one of the founders of the artist-run Ferus Gallery, who had made a name with nightmarish film-set-like installations, such as the spectacularly violent tableau Five Car Stud (1969–72), in which five masked men are about to castrate a black man. They began collaborating soon after they met, and later married. Their first collaborative work, the largescale installation The Middle Islands No. 1 (1972), dealt with gender roles, the institution of marriage and middle-aged sexuality. Their work earned them the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1976, yet at this point Ed was receiving sole artistic credits. It was only in 1981, on the occasion of their exhibition The Kienholz Women in Berlin, that Ed publicly acknowledged Kienholz’s co-authorship of the works and asked for all post-1972 artworks to be retroactively credited to both of them (‘I further feel I no longer have a man’s right to signature only my name to these efforts which have been produced by both of us,’ he declared).

The pair worked between Hope, Indiana, and Berlin, until Ed’s sudden death in 1994 (story has it he was buried in a 1940 Packard automobile at his request). Kienholz continued working in a similar but more pared-down fashion, creating assemblages, collages and installations, as well as holographic work, pursuing her exploration of gender roles and family structures. She also dedicated her time to the restoration of some of Ed’s and their collaborative installations (including three years working on Five Car Stud, which went back on display at LACMA in 2011).

14 August 2019