“I don’t see anything but a bunch of junk thrown together. And he calls that art!”

April 1, 2010

We’ve already told you what happened at LACMA forty-five years ago this week. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention what happened forty-four years ago this week: LACMA opened its infamous Edward Kienholz exhibition. Exactly one year after the museum opened its doors, LACMA got into hot water with the County Supervisors over the Kienholz show, and especially Back Seat Dodge ’38, which depicts two people making out in the back seat of a car, alcohol on the floor and radio playing in the background.

Warren M. Dorn, then a County Supervisor (who was also making a failed run for Governor that year), declared the exhibition pornographic and threatened to pull all County funding from the museum. LACMA stood strong against Dorn and allowed the exhibition to run its course. The controversy made local and national headlines, and the crowds descended upon the museum to form their own opinions.

We’ve got a detailed account of the exhibition and the controversy on our website, but thanks to the great tweeter @LAhistory (fun to follow for all sorts of local history nuggets), we came across this must-watch film of interviews with visitors to the exhibition (found at archive.org). It’s a bit long, but fascinating from beginning to end. My favorite part comes near the end, when a young hipster is explaining why he likes the work. An elderly woman bumps into him and says she doesn’t get it, then confuses him for Kienholz. “Are you the doctor?” she asks, before correcting herself and asking first if he’s the artist, then asking if the young man is related to the artist. “Yes,” he says, “in a sense. So are you.”

Scott Tennent


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