Back Seat Dodge '38

Back Seat Dodge '38
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Back Seat Dodge ‘38 (1964) is one of the most well-known of Kienholz’s tableaux. It includes two faceless figures made of chicken wire sharing an illicit sexual encounter in an actual 1938 Dodge that the artist refashioned. The Dodge’s truncated cab moves the figures to the front seat, making their sexual encounter the central activity. The cab and the surrounding Astroturf are strewn with beer bottles and discarded clothing, and the windows have been replaced with mirrors to emphasize the viewer’s voyeuristic role (Back Seat Dodge ‘38, details).

Kienholz chose this particular make and model for his artwork because his father owned one when he was a teenager. He remembered driving to a dance, meeting a girl, and having a similar experience, but later not being able to recall the girl’s name (Play audio). Personal memory figures largely in all of Kienholz’s works, though his works are also meant to gain meaning from the viewer’s own experiences and personal history, making them at once intimate and universal. Back Seat Dodge ’38 also alludes to the burgeoning car culture that was closely identified with Southern California, an association that may have prompted viewers to consider their own relationships to automobiles and the growing dissolution of boundaries between public and private spaces.