Meet the Kienholz Ozymandias, as clueless as the deluded despot in the famous Shelley sonnet
Percy Blythe Shelley’s famous sonnet Ozymandias has inspired numerous artworks since it was published in 1818, most of them imagining those trunkless legs and that sneering visage of a despot forgotten by time. In 1985, Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz reimagined that ruler from the ancient past as a corrupt modern-day dictator commanding an abject ship of fools. Working with objects they collected in the flea markets of Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris, they conjured a vast, satirical tableaux they called the The Ozymandias Parade. The piece, originally created for the exhibition “No! Contemporary American Dada” at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, has now taken up residence in the Pace Gallery at 25th Street, where the clueless despot seems to be leading the charge without actually being in charge.
The decadent “ship of fools” is capped with nearly 700 blinking lights, which change with each presentation to reflect the colors of the nation where the work is being displayed.
The president/chancellor/premier/dictator rides the belly of the beast.
Monte Factor, a friend and collector of Kienholzes, was the model for the leader, who brandishes a red emergency phone in his hand and wears a yellow rubber ducky on his head.
Nancy’s father and Ed’s mother posed for as general and the overburdened taxpayer he rides on. The general’s army of tin soldiers is at his feet. The word ‘No’ on his head is the result of a poll conducted each place the installation is shown. The question is, Are you satisfied with your government?”
Religion (take your pick) is the carrot dangled before the workers.
The vice president is going the wrong way. His horse seems to have tripped on its own skates.
Pig’s snouts, of course.
The work is slightly damaged where viewers have tried to bust out the money over the years.
The little people watch the parade.
The Third World watches too.
Blind Justice at the prow of the ship. The scales are broken, and so is she.