Prostitutes on display at venerable London gallery

Tue Nov 17, 2009 10:09am EST
 
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The National Gallery in London, one of the world's great public collections, has put on display a seedy reconstruction of Amsterdam's Red Light District in a rare foray into contemporary installation art.

When plans to house Ed and Nancy Kienholz's "The Hoerengracht" were announced last year, critics asked whether the normally reserved National was "prostituting itself" to contemporary art designed, at least in part, to shock.

But at a press preview on Tuesday, curator Colin Wiggins defended the decision to feature the installation which recreates a street and buildings caked in grime where life-like models of scantily clad women display themselves in windows. He also underlined the links between the piece and famous Dutch paintings from the 17th century that belong to the gallery's permanent collection.

Wiggins also argued that the sordid subject matter, portrayed in all its "squalor," was not as out of place at the National as visitors may initially think.

"This is like walking into a 17th century Dutch painting of Amsterdam," Wiggins said.

"We have pictures of gang rape, we have pictures of incest, we have pictures of murder and torture and mutilation, but because people put them in gold frames and cover them in varnish ... they're safe, they're tame."

The Kienholzes began making The Hoerengracht in 1983, just over a decade after they met at a party in Los Angeles and married. It took them around five years to make.

By the time they met, Ed Kienholz was already famous for installations that were controversial for tackling subjects including mental illness, abortion and the sex trade.   Continued...

 
<p>An installation titled 'The Hoerengracht' ('Whore's Canal') by U.S. artists Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz is seen at the National Gallery in central London November 17, 2009. The National Gallery in London, one of the world's great public collections, has put on display a seedy reconstruction of Amsterdam's Red Light District in a rare foray into contemporary installation art. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>