Though Kienholz’s art was not subtle, its meaning was rarely literal. He engaged viewers by bringing them into the space of the artwork and allowing them to note distinct details (often through sound or intimate written materials) that would lead them to draw meaning out of their experience as a whole. Other works in the 1966 exhibition contained equally provocative material, but the literal depiction in Back Seat Dodge ‘38 made it an easy target (Play quicktime). It was the only work in which two figures were shown interacting in a sexual manner. Though text in Roxy’s (1961) makes reference to the “job” and money, the prostitutes appear alone and the piece never directly names prostitution as the activity taking place (Roxy’s and figures). Similarly, The Illegal Operation (1962) clearly refers to abortion, but the absence of the body in the overall composition does not overtly force the viewer to address the subject.
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