For those unfamiliar with Kienholz, he is best known for his socially critical, environmental assemblage sculpture of the 1960s and ‘70s, known as tableaux. Works such as The Illegal Operation (1963), Backseat Dodge (1965), and ,The Portable War Memorial (1968) exemplify such sculpture. There has been only one monograph published on the artist (Robert Pincusís On a Scale that Competes with the World, UC Press, 1990), with most scholarship on Kienholz taking the form of biographical exhibition catalog essays and reviews. In the introduction to Kienholz’s 1977 oral history, author and interviewer Lawrence Weschler described Kienholz as the untrained, intuitive master of assemblage art and located the nature of this work in the artist’s biography. Weschler wrote: “It is difficult to trace the precise genesis of Kienholz’s art. It is as though there has never been a division between his quotidian life and his artistic production.” 11 In such conflations of the man and his work, historians essentialize the artist as the untrained, intuitive master of California Assemblage, blessed with instinctive know-how and skill as opposed to intellectually refined knowledge and intelligence. California Assemblage, like Kienholz, is usually described as grittier, harsher, and without art historical influence or reference from past European arts.
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