The Pedicord Apts., a mixed-media artwork at the Weisman Art Museum
Photo courtesy of Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, Pedicord Apts.
Inside the giant cubist sculpture that is the Weisman Art Museum sits a quieter but no less audacious 3D work called The Pedicord Apts. The mixed-media installation announces itself with paneled exterior walls, a black rubber doormat, and an open door leading into a lobby. Above the entrance, the words “Pedicord Apts.” appear on a marquee in fat red letters. On the right side of the sign, in the same blocky sans serif, is the number 36. To the uninitiated, this scene creates a Lucy-and-the-wardrobe-type dilemma: Do you dare cross the threshold? We recommend it, though what’s inside is a far cry from Narnia.
Step through the entryway and note the fireplace and mirror, the standalone ashtray with real cigarette butts, the fake plant, the worn carpet, and the general air of decay, made all the more authentic by the room’s musty tobacco smell. Anyone with firsthand experience of crappy apartment buildings will feel this part of the ride in their gut.
The bad vibes build as you enter a dimly lit hallway with three doors on each side and a window at the end. Here, the outside gallery disappears from view and you find yourself in what could pass for a set from a David Lynch film. Like Lynch’s surrealist fiction, The Pedicord Apts. projects a funhouse take on reality. As you near the window, the hall narrows and the ceiling lowers, creating the illusion that the space is longer than it actually is. The doors don’t open, but lean into any one of them and you trigger a recording that plays behind the wall. In unit A, there’s a game show on TV. In D, a woman is crying (or is she laughing?). In E, a domestic fight unfolds (“Wash the goddamn dish!” yells a man). And so on.
At this point, if the conceptual voodoo is working, you become both voyeur and vandal (you’re standing on art, after all). You don’t enjoy the work as much as you feel implicated by it. Which is pretty exciting.
The raw power of The Pedicord Apts. comes from the fact that its creators—the late Edward Kienholz and his life/artistic partner Nancy—built it from the scraps of a derelict residential hotel in Spokane, Washington, that was demolished in a moment of late-’70s urban renewal. Rather than faithfully recreate a lobby and hallway from the hotel, the artists designed an imaginary surrogate—a memorial for the forgotten flophouses of the world. As a result, the immersive environment pulls off the nifty trick of existing in and out of time.
Completed in 1983, The Pedicord Apts. remains a relevant statement on urban blight and gentrification, topics our cities know a thing or two about. It’s not a public-facing powerhouse like Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry, but it’s as important, notes WAM senior curator Diane Mullin. “In an art 101 class, you’d hear about Oldenburg and Ed Kienholz in the same breath,” she says, adding that the installation is a visitor favorite, especially among school groups. “Kids touch it, which our registrars don’t love, but that’s what makes it so compelling—you can go in it.”
Though lauded by viewers and critics, the work’s interactive qualities create unique preservation challenges. When WAM closed for a year during its 2010-2011 expansion phase, it replaced badly worn carpeting throughout The Pedicord Apts. This seems like a funny thing to do to an artwork meant to mimic a run-down building, but, as Mullin once wrote, the Kienholzes desired a “proper level of dilapidation.” To break in the new carpet, the museum had kids tromp on it in their dirty winter boots.
Reached by phone from her home in Houston, Nancy Kienholz says she doesn’t remember much about that restoration but recalls that late WAM founder Frederick R. Weisman bought the work because it reminded him of places he had lived when he was young. “I also remember that the recording of the couple fighting was hard to make because our actors kept breaking out in actual fights and couldn’t get through the script,” she says. Nancy doesn’t think about The Pedicord Apts. much these days. “You kind of let some of the work go after awhile.” Luckily, that dusty old apartment building found a loyal super in the Weisman. Weisman Art Museum, 333 River Pkwy. E., Mpls., 612-625-9494, weisman.umn.edu
Two Other Works Worth Another Look
2012-2013, Mark Dion, Minneapolis Institute of Art
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Bell Museum Dioramas
Dioramas are art, too—especially those painted by 20th-century master Francis Lee Jaques, whose work appears at museums around the world, including the Bell.