The Illegal Operation (1962) by Ed Kienholz

The Illegal Operation - Ed Kienholz - 1962

Artwork Information

TitleThe Illegal Operation
ArtistEd Kienholz
Dimensions59 x 48 x 54 in. (149.9 x 121.9 x 137.2 cm)
Current LocationBetty and Monte Factor Family Collection
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About The Illegal Operation

The Illegal Operation is a sculpture created by American artist Edward Kienholz in 1962. This assemblage artwork portrays a makeshift operating room used for illegal abortions, complete with bedpans, rusty medical instruments, and soiled blankets strewn throughout the scene. It was inspired by the personal experience of his then-wife who underwent an illegal abortion procedure in Tijuana.

What makes this artwork unique is its powerful statement about the controversial topic of abortion. Kienholz’s creation challenges societal norms about women’s reproductive rights during a time when undergoing an illegal operation was common practice. The gritty and uncomfortable imagery evokes strong emotions in viewers and addresses political issues that were not yet accepted at that point in history.

The artwork has been exhibited multiple times and has gained both criticism and admirers alike due to its controversial nature. Despite this, “The Illegal Operation” remains significant for shedding light on a social issue that still remains contentious today. In particular, it provides insight into how art can make political statements while providing commentary on contemporary society.

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