Love it or hate it, Five Car Stud (1969-1972) is Kienholz’ major work. It represents a group of white men castrating a black man as his white girlfriend watches. The figures are life-size mannequins wearing masks, illuminated by the headlights of four cars and a pickup truck. Floating letters in an oil pan on the victim’s chest spell out the N word. Kienholz’s aesthetic is uncompromisingly bitter. People are mean and stupid, and things don’t get better. Up until now, Five Car Stud has mostly been known via creepy black-and-white photos taken by Walter Hopps, evoking Night of the Living Dead and news photos of the Watts riots (themselves two touchstones of race in America).
When Kienholz created the piece, installation art was not part of art terminology. Hence Five Car Stud is an early, striking example of an expanded artistic aproach in which the spectator is not only viewing the object of art but is drawn into it as a participant. In this case a shocking experience, as the scenario shows a number of white men lynching a black man in a frightening, dramatic set-up.
It is a very special opportunity for Louisiana Museum of Modern Art to be able to show this installation. The preparations towards the presentation of this one work and its showing have been going on for more than two years. In October 2011 the installation was shown at LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as the American leg of the tour before its departure for Europe.
The work of Kienholz has been re-assessed in recent years, not least through the gaze of contemporary art. This has brought about a great interest in Five Car Stud, since it reappeared in 2009 – after having been 'gone' for almost 40 years – from the storage of the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art in Japan and was restored under the supervision of Kienholz’ widow, artist Nancy Redding Kienholz.
Originally, attempts to exhibit Five Car Stud at the end of the 1960s at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in what was then Kienholz’ home town were unsuccessful; instead the work was shown at the legendary Documenta V exhibition in Kassel in Germany in 1972 where it was a sensation. The the reception in Kassel, and the disappointment with what Kienholz saw as a lack of courage in American society to confront and tackle very serious social and ethnic conflicts, prompted him to move to Europe. Now – after all these years – the work is at Louisiana which has a long history with Kienholz. Three of his works are in the museum collection and the museum showed a major exhibition of his works in 1979. Therefore it is only natural for Louisiana to help ensure the work a well-deserved transatlantic renaissance.