Kienholz: the Hoerengracht

The Hoerengracht (Whore’s Canal) is a dark, intricate, large-scale installation work by US artists Ed Kienholz (1927-94) and his wife Nancy Reddin Kienholz (b1943). The piece, made between 1983 and 1988, has been shown in venues around the world since 1989, but never before in London.

The walk-through installation (right), which evokes Amsterdam’s Red Light District through a series of dense assemblages, is staged in the National Gallery’s Sunley Room, a temporary exhibition space that holds a series of contemporary shows that connect with the permanent collection of the museum. In this case the work is being shown in relation to 17th-century Dutch paintings, including Jan Steen’s Interior of an Inn, 1665-70, and Pieter de Hooch’s A Musical Party in a Courtyard, 1677. “This connection is important,” Colin Wiggins, curator of the exhibition, told The Art Newspaper. “The National Gallery collection ends at 1900. For a younger audience, this can make the collection seem remote and inaccessible. Contemporary exhibitions that show the connection between the old and the new help to bridge that gap and can help to introduce a younger audience to the richness of the collection.”

Wiggins believes that the Sunley Room is the perfect location for such shows as it is “right in the centre of the National Gallery, sandwiched between Velázquez and the Italian Renaissance. We don’t want to show contemporary work, for example, in a back corridor disconnected from the collection,” he said. “The National Gallery is a living collection and continues to inspire today’s art. It is not a collection of old dead fossils.”

The last major Kienholz show in London was at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1971. “Since then this city has been strangely neglectful,” said Wiggins. We all know about Picasso, Duchamp, Pollock and Warhol, but I have become convinced that Kienholz is similarly one of the defining names of the 20th century.” The show is supported by the Outset Contemporary Art Fund.

This article was published in The Art Newspaper, November 2009, p82. To see it in context, click on the PDF link below.

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