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Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz Useful Art #5: The Western Hotel, 1992

Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, Useful Art #5: The Western Hotel, 1992 (Portland Art Museum) Speakers: Tina Olsen, Bruce Guenther. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

Bruce: Bruce Guenther and Tina Olsen in the Jubitz Center Modern & Contemporary Art. We're standing in front of a work by Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz. An artist collaborating team who shared studios in Hope, Idaho and Berlin, Germany. Tina: And we're standing here but as we're standing, I'm looking at this incredible object and it really isn't a sculpture and hearing it because it's a radio playing, isn't there? Bruce: Yes and there's a table lamp with the light on and a bowl of melting ice cream and one of those wonderfully disheveled chairs with still the imprint of someone who's sat there too long and an old pair of shoes. Tina: Yes, abso- This is assemblage art. Art that happens from the bits and pieces of daily life, reassembled by the artists. Tina: Right and speaking of daily life, let's take a really close look here at what we're seeing because there's definitely like we've been transported into a decaying hotel room. Bruce: Well, you know, it's, it's called Useful Art #5, the Western Motel. This is in a funny way, a vignette through the dark lens of Ed Kienholz and Nancy, looking at Americana, the state highway. Those little motels that populated America. Little units attached with a carport, one to another like a train and here, we're at the office, a red vacancy sign buzzing in the window. You can probably hear it and the window is a freestanding wall. On the outside, we see the outside of the window, Tina: Oh, yeah. Right. the Venetian blinds, the drywall aged and kind of spattered with rain. The very similitude, the reality of this is omnipresent. Tina: Right, it is but it isn't because on the one hand, here we are and we can actually stand outside the wall of this room look through window and then of course, at the same time, walk right around it and the inside of the room. And the other thing that's really disrupts that sense of looking at a representation, is that we see the wire that makes this thing work. We see that it's on, what is it? Is it a pallet? What is it sitting on there? Bruce: The Kienholzes created two platforms with [fo] brick paving, linoleum and they have aluminum-wrought handles, so you could pick it up and carry it. Just the way that much of American culture is portable and movable and it's a motel Tina: And mobile and it's all those kind of funny notions. Tina: Yes. Tina: Right and it's a motel and it's also a motel that evokes the road and evokes the highway, and evokes this kind of transient culture of people who don't really stay. Bruce: And yet there's someone who has stayed for a lifetime. What I find really revealing about it and the poignancy, emotionally for me, are these old man slippers, the half-consumed bottle of Jim Beam bourbon, a few magazines by Soldier of Fortune and Western tales and then the pipes Tina: Oh, I didn't notice those. laying there on the table. It's a man, perhaps a veteran, living out the last days of his life managing a little motel on a road that no one uses. Tina: So, we step into this other world, this other space. Kienholz is evoking for us a whole environment, a whole space for us but if I look down and I look around, of course, here I am in the galleries. Bruce: Yes. It's that whole tradition in 20th century art of tableau and assemblage from the early cubist paintings that incorporated chair caning and ropes and bits of newspaper to the surrealist who would evoke the internal dreaming of the mind through objects recontextualized, the fur-lined teacup to Joseph Cornell in American art and the vignettes of the pop artists. Tina: Right. And if I really think about it, as I stand right at the very edge of this object, I mean really, where does it begin and it end? When do we know that we're outside of its space and when do we know that we're in it? I mean if I put my arm, I'm kind of in the space but there's a different floor to the space. There's clear outlines to it. Bruce: Yes. It has a contained periphery that's psychological and yet, are experienced because we recognize every element that makes it up from the rag, rug, to the clock, to the disassemble. Tina: Absolutely. Bruce: It is our world and yet, we're observers and we see something at an arm's length that we may never have personally experienced but we know this place. Tina: But we know this place so well and we know this stuff so well. I mean this is the detritus and the stuff of our own life. Bruce: Absolutely. Tina: The chair, the slippers, the bowl of ice cream, the dirt, I mean- Bruce: Yeah, the plastic in case, Bruce: AM/FM radio, slightly squawky, slightly out of tune but there. Tina: Exactly. So, ultimately, it seems to me that one of the things that Kienholz is asking us to to think about is, where does art and life take up and can you even make a line between the two?