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Bernhardt, Kienholz, Wagner: Assemblage
September 9 through November 6, 2004
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 9, 6 to 8pm
The Tobey C. Moss Gallery presents works by the three major figures of the California Assemblage movement, JOHN BERNHARDT, EDWARD KIENHOLZ and GORDON WAGNER.
JOHN BERNHARDT (1921-1963) began his artistic career as an abstract expressionist painter and printmaker. When he moved to Santa Barbara in 1959, his predilection for collecting discarded objects became his full focus. Humor and double entendres dictate his titles; he is not ‘above’ puns! Nevertheless, his assemblages have a formality that dignifies the detritus. In Take Me to Your Leader, Bernhardt presents to the viewer an irreverent “alien” mask created from dental molds, piano keys and a hand-mixer. Bernhardt was also fascinated with mechanical workings; Homage to Leger unites perforated metal straps, rusted hinges and a latch.
From a beginning in the abstract expressionist tradition, EDWARD KIENHOLZ’s (1927-1994) assemblages, like Bernhardt’s, grew out of his passion for collecting “junk”. Our show focuses upon the early works, where wall-mounted assemblages are combined with gestural painting (see Untitled, 1956 and 1958). In Hope for ‘36 (1959), Kienholz challenges the viewer by presenting an assemblage partially obscured by a black canvas. This piece is part of a series of seven wrapped assemblages that he created in the ‘50s; all are in museum or private collections EXCEPT Hope for ‘36. Kienholz. attached a curious proviso to each of this series: the buyer signed a contract that the canvas shroud could not be removed for at least ten years! Hope for ‘36 remains the only one still wrapped with its original canvas. Los Angeles County Museum of Art received one from the Michael Blankfort bequest. It was opened eventually with great ceremony and now hangs as a ‘diptych’ with the framed shroud hanging alongside the assemblage.
GORDON WAGNER (1915-1987), the “grandfather” of the California Assemblage movement, was an influence for the many younger artists, including George Herms, Michael McMillen and Betye Saar, who used to gather in his studio. Wagner brings wit and folklore together in the Railroad Man that unites a toy train with a working man’s gloves and cap. The Mojave Freight Yard carries on the theme. Two Loves reveals Wagner’s affinity for both classical and jazz music, and is created from fragments of musical instruments and a jazz score entitled “Persian” (which was given to Wagner by musician Don Preston). There are undercurrents of the fantastic woven through this piece that border on the sinister.
The stimulating elements in all three
were curiosity, a sense of bizarre humor and a scavenging ‘fever’ with
the boldness to recycle cast-offs, shoreline debris or commonplace
in challenging contexts. Matisse once wrote that the ability to
the world through the eyes of a child was indispensable to the true
Gordon Wagner, Edward Kienholz and John Bernhardt have that power.
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