One Way to Get Through Baggage Claim

Allison discovered the trove of art and history that is LACMA’s library only yesterday, but I’ve been digging through its archives almost since I arrived at LACMA nearly three years ago. If it weren’t for our archives I wouldn’t have been able to bring you this post on the history of the Wilshire/Fairfax intersection, or this one on all the illustrious debuts of 1913, or this great family portrait taken at LACMA in 1968.

When I came across the family portrait in a book of press clippings from ‘68, I also happened upon a news item from the Venice Vanguard concerning Edward Kienholz. Apparently the artist managed to outdo that United Breaks Guitars guy some forty years in advance. Here is the article in full:

Airline desk ruined by artist’s axe

Artist Edward Kienholz, who is best known for his display of controversial sculpture at the L.A. County Museum of Art last year, has—literally—struck again.

The scene of the improvised “happening” was the TWA terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Kienholz… arrived at the terminal at 1 p.m. Thursday and presented a letter of introduction before he proceeded to demolish a lost and found desk in the baggage department with a long-handled axe.

Police report that the steel and formica desk was completely ruined by the four hefty swings which Kienholz took at the TWA property.

The outburst was prompted by a disagreement between Kienholz and TWA. Police said that Kienholz had presented a $150 claim for damage to one of his works of art while it was being transported from San Francisco aboard a TWA flight. When the claim was denied, it was presumed that Kienholz decided to collect “in kind.”

Los Angeles police officers of the Airport Division met Kienholz in an airport parking lot after the incident and returned to the scene of the crime to investigate the damages. TWA officials refused to file charges and Kienholz was sent home.

Photos and a report of the damage has been sent to the West Los Angeles City Attorney, who may file a complaint of malicious mischief against Kienholz

Kienholz is reported to have been accompanied by two friends and a photographer.

For more on “the TWA incident,” this article at X-tra Online goes into more detail, and Kienholz himself recounted the incident to Lawrence Weschler in a 2004 issue of the Believer (though only a portion of the article is available online). A story like this one makes me extra glad that LACMA takes special care when it comes to transporting art! Warning to all baggage handlers: do not invite the wrath of the artist upon ye.

Scott Tennent

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