Precedent: Portable War Memorial

Title: Untitled or The Portable War Memorial

Authors: Edward Kienholz

Location: The Beat Art Museum, Los Angeles

Year complete: 1968

Description: A 1:1 scale sculpture/tableau that was comprised of found objects from flee markets or estate sales. The objects or furniture that create the emotive and captivating scene still have the physical grime or must which enhance the realism and ominous tone of the piece.

The tableau was intended to be read from left to right as a viewer. To the far left is war themed propaganda such as posters and a replica of the Marine Corps Monument. Behind the replica is a chalkstone tombstone displaying the names of countries that no longer exist. Abutting the war themed section is an idyllic garden scene and coca-cola café. As a viewer from afar was in intended to read the stark juxtaposition of domestic and international affairs.

An alternative to viewing the tableau from left to right is entering the scene and sitting within the garden furniture. Kienholz’s desire was that a viewer would enter the scene and then ideally “with coke in hand” spot the 9 inch human doll being crucified upon the side of the tombstone. Which can be seen most clearly from the garden furniture. The human doll has burned hands to comment on society’s responsibility and “nuclear future.” He wanted to educate and promote his opinion that “we should perhaps, as a nation and as individuals understand ourselves and our influences to a far greater degree. I truly regret those men/all men who have died in the facilities of war because in their deaths I must comprehend our future.” The interactive scene allows visitors to “attend not simply the representation, but also the working irony, parody, and satire within it,” hopefully allow such attendees to gain perspective, and proactive pessimism that trigger action.


The “portable” aspect of the tableau may be that on the chalkboard tombstone there were black squares that were intended to be filled in to apply to different years or different countries, which would allow the scene to travel over times and country borders. The tombstone reads: V _ Day 19_ _.


To the left of the tombstone is the Marine Corps Monument (the statues of the soldiers propping up the U.S. flag) which was built in 1954 in Virginia Arlington. Kienholz critiques this monument as a celebratory statement that glorifies War and further separates the domestic affairs from the bleak realities of war.


Edward Kienholz Website 

Beat Museum Website

  • Lipschitz, Ruth, Henry, Edward Kienholz’s Portable War Memorial (1968), Vietnam and Cold War Politics, Re-presenting America, Taylor & Francis Publications, 2002.

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