DECEMBER 2004/JANUARY 2005

Ed Kienholz

[INSTALLATION ARTIST]

“I WAS SCARED SHITLESS. BECAUSE WHEN YOU FINALLY DECIDE YOU ARE GOING TO TAKE THE LAW INTO YOUR OWN HANDS, THAT’S A REALLY MAJOR THING TO DO.”
Things that, once damaged, are hard to clean up:
Art critics’ hair
Steel desks
TWA’s reputation

ED KIENHOLZ: Well, there I was with a Tiffany lamp in West Virginia. Some friend of Lyn’s gave it to her. It was from a beautiful old house outside of Washington. We went out there quail hunting, or bobwhite hunting. And in the closet there was a lamp that had been originally gas and was converted over to electricity. It was a mess of spires and spikes and casts of cupids and whatever—I mean, it was just ornate, crazy. And this very good friend of Lyn’s wanted to give it to her. And also there was a Tiffany lampshade, not related to that lamp, but a signed Tiffany lampshade. “Take this,” she says. “I’ll never take it out of the closet. It’s been here—I don’t like it.” So we took it and went back to the hotel room. I thought, “I’ll have to get it back to Los Angeles, so I’ll pack it.” So I went down to a grocery store, and I bought a couple of cardboard boxes and a roll of masking tape and some paper. I went back to the hotel, and I made a box that was not only the proper size for the lampshade, but it was also contoured to fit the diagonal part of the lampshade. I packed it very well and sealed it all with tape.

So we went out to Dulles International on Thanksgiving morning, whenever this was. There was some guy there at the TWA counter who should have been home with his family eating turkey because he was just in a really rotten mood. And he said, “You can’t hand-carry that.” I said, “Well, it will go under the seat.” He said, “No, it won’t.” I said, “Well then, prove it.” You know, they usually had a trial seat, a thing that had the dimensions. Well, he couldn’t find the trial thing, or he didn’t want to, or whatever. He said, “Look if you want to take it on the plane, you’ve got to check it through.” I said, “You’ll break it.” He said, “Naw, we won’t break it.” I said, “All right, I want it insured.” He said, “Fine.” He threw it on something, and he gave me a little receipt. And we got on the plane and flew to Los Angeles. There were two other people on the plane. (If you ever want to travel, by the way, go on a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas day. It’s terrific. There’s nobody on the plane—not even a pilot on this one.)

Anyway, we got to Los Angeles, and I got the luggage. I had Lyn go over to the lost-and-found passenger service counter, and I went in and told them that I had this lampshade, how I had with great reluctance shipped it through, and I wanted to open it there and be sure it was okay. Of course, I opened it, and it was busted. The guy said, “Oh, gee, that’s too bad. Leave it here with me, and we’ll do what we can do.” So we left the lampshade, and we went home.

About Wednesday, I guess, the guy called and said I’d have to have it appraised. So I went out to the airport and I got it, and I took it to two antique stores and had it appraised. They said, “Yes, that’s a broken Tiffany lampshade.” I said, “Thank you.” And they told me it was worth $500, $200, or whatever. So I took the appraisals and went back down. I turned in the papers, and I went back to the house.

I waited a couple of weeks, and I called them and nothing had been done on it. I called again, and nothing had been done on it. I finally called New York and talked with the head of whatever, at my expense. It dragged on and it dragged on, and then they said they couldn’t do anything about it because there was no proof that it was broken on their plane. Finally they said that in fact it looked like I had packed a broken lampshade so that I could, you know—I said, “Fella, you’re calling me a liar. I won’t hold still for that.” I said, “I’m going up to Boise—I have an exhibition there—and when I come back,” I said, “I want you to have done something on this case. And if you haven’t done anything on this case”—this was on the phone—I said, “If you haven’t done anything on this case, I’m going to come down and I’m going to fuck TWA over to the extent you’ve fucked me over.” He said, “Why, don’t you threaten me!” I said, ”I’m not threatening you. I’m just telling you.” And I hung up.

I went to Boise and had an exhibition and came back—nothing.

So I sat down one morning and I typed out a little piece of paper. It said, “Good morning, my name is Ed Kienholz. I live in” such and such a place and blah-blah-blah—TWA—“you broke my lampshade and I’m really unhappy.” I made two or three copies of it, and I stuck it in my shirt pocket. I discussed it with Lyn; she was pretty uptight about it all. I also discussed it with an attorney who said, you know, “You’re crazy. You’ll end up in jail.” I said, “Yeah, but I…” And he finally said, “All right, if that’s what you want to do, go do it.” So I took my ax—and Monte Factor wanted to go along; he wanted to watch. So Monte went along, and Bob Bucknam went along. (Bob is a six-foot-four, six-foot-six photographer, good friend of mine.) So we take my brown Carry-all, Brave Brownie, and we drive down to the L.A. airport. I have my ax with me, sheathed. And that’s the ax that’s leaning against the wall there, still with the sheath on it. It still probably has the sheriff’s number on it, as a matter of fact.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Lawrence Weschler is the author of eleven books, most recently Vermeer in Bosnia, a collection of essays which includes major pieces on David Hockney and Ed Kienholz.

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