“Barney's Beanery” by Ed Kienholz

When American expatriates in Amsterdam feel homesick, they usually head for the nearest McDonald’s, where they can fill up on Big Macs — and drink Heineken beer! I, on the other hand, would go to the Stedelijk — the city’s modern-art museum — and spend an hour inside Ed Kienholz’s installation, “Barney’s Beanery.”

The real Barney’s Beanery is an all-night restaurant in LA, and it’s been expanded and modernized — and, frankly, turned into an upscale McDonald’s — since Kienholz reproduced it as a piece of art. In the Stedelijk, only two visitors at a time are allowed inside. As you walk through the swinging red doors, you hear a continuous tape loop of loud conversations, cheesy jukebox music, and dishes clattering back in the unseen kitchen. In a booth in the corner, one patron is slumped over the table, passed out. A printed sign on the wall at his side says “Minimum order in booth 25¢,” and someone has taped a quarter beside it and scrawled “This here quarter is so Dwayne can sleep” on the sign. There’s a Slippery Rock State pennant hanging behind the bar, and another sign snarls “Fagots stay out,” misspelled just like that. It’s all incredibly real, even though the varnish on the figures shines unnaturally in the overhead lighting — and even though all of them have clock faces where their people faces should be. The clocks aren’t running ... so, in “Barney’s Beanery” unlike the real Barney’s Beanery, time stands still.

I love Kienholz’s “Beanery,” and I’ve visited it many times. In fact, I sent protagonist Jack Farmer there in a scene from my novel, Dutch T(h)reat.

There’s more about Kienholz and his installations here.

Return to Art.