Edward Kienholz, a former orderly at a mental hospital, created The State Hospital in 1964-66. This large installation piece features an institutional-looking white shell with a door and small barred window. The exterior of the artwork is intended to critique institutions like mental hospitals.
Kienholz’s art is maximalist, and he saturates his works with identifiable objects. The State Hospital features filth-laden conditions, based on Kienholz’s experience working in a mental hospital. As one of his most controversial works, this piece became an indictment of the treatment of vulnerable patients in psychiatric institutions.
This artwork highlights the deplorable conditions experienced by many patients in mental hospitals during that period. It also illustrates Kienholz’s frustration with poorly regulated psychiatric institutions that left patients untreated and forgotten. By creating this powerful and controversial installation piece, Kienholz brought awareness to the inadequate care provided by such establishments and sparked important conversations about what steps could be taken to reform them.