A detail from The Hoerengracht, the Kienholzes’ life-size recreation of a section of Amsterdam’s red-light district (1983-86), to be shown at the National Gallery. Photograph: Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz

The first time you see it is a blast, a rush, a shock. It’s a nightmarish place and yet utterly compelling; a seductive hell, a vision of the grotesque that is somehow more fascinating than beauty.

The second time, you can’t wait. It is the highlight of a holiday in Amsterdam. I’m talking about The Beanery by Ed Kienholz, one of the most compelling installations ever made, and one of the most memorable works of late 20th-century art. It belongs to the Stedelijk Museum, which is due to reopen after an architectural overhaul. I hope it will now be kept on permanent display there – it drove me nuts to visit Amsterdam a few years ago and find The Beanery had been taken off view in some kind of half-baked sub-Tate rehang. This is one of the masterpieces of modern times and it needs to be on permanent view in the same way the Rothko paintings at Tate Modern do, or the Richard Serra installation at the Guggenheim Bilbao.


Jonathan Jones