Circle Game

Ed and Nancy Reddin Kienholz's 'Merry-Go-World'

Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, The Merry-Go-World or Begat by Chance and
the Wonder Horse Trigger,
installation view. Photo: Jeff McLane


Both sinister and familiar, Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz's The Merry-Go-World or Begat by Chance and the Wonder Horse Trigger (1988-92) is a sculptural installation that invites viewers to contemplate privilege and the proverbial wheel of fortune. Accompanied by assemblage works including the present lot, the eerie, elaborate carousel was exhibited at L.A. Louver in 2019. Within the gallery, guests must spin a wheel to enter the installation's interior, where one of eight characters would become illuminated: among them, an Indian street barber, a poor Native American couple in South Dakota, an Egyptian chairmaker, a wealthy Parisian woman. 

According to Nancy Kienholz, the seed of this work was planted by her 1980s encounter with an elderly woman begging on the streets of El Paso. With this in mind, Merry-Go-Round serves as an excavation of her discomfort with the lopsided arbitrariness of the circumstances that people are born into. As an accompanying work, this lot derives from one of Merry-Go-Round's eight drastically different life paths.