The American Way II, 1960/1970
Paint and resin on rubber garden hose with severed deer neck mounted on wood; Alongside once covered paint and watercolor on canvas cover, subsequently removed by the artist.
Cover (left panel): 22.25 x 21.25 x 7 inches; Right: 22.75 x 22.25 x 10 inches
Provenance: Commissioned direct from Artist by Dorothy and Michael Blankfort;
Susan Blankfort Camiel Collection, San Diego, CA;
Exhibited: The Michael and Dorothy Blankfort Collection LA County Museum of Art, 1982; LA Louver KIENHOLZ BEFORE LACMA, January 24-March 3, 2012
Illustrated: The Michael and Dorothy Blankfort Collection LA County Museum of Art, 1982, p. 54; KIENHOLZ BEFORE LACMA 24 January - 3 March 2012, p. 24
Essay on the above listed work from Confessions of an Art Eater (with Apologies to De Quincy) & Excerpt from LA Louver's exhibition catalogue KIENHOLZ BEFORE LACMA 24 January - 3 March 2012, p. 24
The next episode, in 1960, started over a beer with Ed Kienholz, not yet well known. He asked me if I thought he would "make it." What he meant, of course, was critical appreciation of his work, sales, museum representation, and so forth. I answered promptly with enthusiastic affirmation. I truly believed he would "make it," although as a writer, knowing how necessary such encouragement could be, I'd have answered yes under any circumstances.
Kienholz then asked another question: Would I buy something from him I couldn't look at for ten years? I knew from experience, having already bought several of his works, that he enjoyed "dealing." Again, I felt I had no choice. I had spoken of my faith in his future. Now was the time to prove my sincerity, and I agreed. The "deal" was for a down payment and the balance at the end of the ten-year term.
"If you open it during that time," Kienholz added, "you pay it all and I keep the piece." Later, when he presented the lengthy and involved written contract, I saw that the date of the "opening" was April Fool's Day, 1970.
The ten years passed like a wave of the hand while Kienholz' construction, hidden within a canvas envelope, hung around the house with the rest of the crowd. Again, we were made fun of by our friends who didn't understand that faith in an artist has to be total or it becomes speculation.
For the "grand opening," we invited all the friends who had seen the "thing" in our home. Kienholz appeared, strangely shy, but dutifully prepared to do the final unveiling. As we stood together in our garden, surrounded by an eager, skeptical audience, he asked whether I would sell the piece back to him before he opened it. For the third time, my good faith was tested, and I refused.
What we saw brought gasps of appreciation as well as distaste. In the center of the construction was the gaping oval of a deer's neck, glossy brown hair and all, from which the head and all the innards had been removed Surrounding the neck was a coil of ochre colored rubber hose against a salmon background. The neck and the coil were contained in a painted wooden box approximately two-feet square. The title of the piece was The American Way, II.
I dared think that he had called it The American Way, II because it represented a mindless act of horror, not unlike one of Goya's drawings of war. Dorothy asked him what the title meant. "It's obvious," Kienholz replied. "The way you bought it is the American way. On the installment plan." Despite Kienholz' claim, I still see it my way, and there's no law that says I can't. Someday it will take its place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art alongside another work of Kienholz' called History as a Planter, a deeply moving memorial to those who died in Hitler's ovens, bought jointly for the Museum by some collectors among whom we were proud to be included.
- Michael Blankfort, "Confessions of an Art Eater (with Apologies to De Quincey)