Published: September 12, 2000
A Love Affair with the Automobile Interpreted at the Institute of Contemporary Art
BOSTON, MASS. – “Customized: Hot Rods, Low Riders, and American Car Culture,” opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art on October 25 and remaining through December 31, examines the artists who have defined the imagery and attitude of American car culture as well as contemporary artists who have drawn upon hot rod and low rider culture for inspiration. Works in the exhibition use a variety of mediums, including painting, installation, sculpture, poster art, photography and drawing, to interpret America’s love affair with the automobile.
Artists represented in the exhibition include Fiona Banner, Coop, Von Dutch, Sylvie Fleury, Alex Harris, Craig McDean, David Perry, Richard Prince, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Meridel Rubenstein, Ruben Ortiz Torres, Jimi V, and Robert Williams.
According to Jill S. Medvedow, James Saches Plaut Director of the ICA, “The national fascination with speed and movement that dominated modernist architecture, painting, photography and sculpture found its popular counterpart in cars, music and the open road. To better understand and appreciate the universe of hot rodders and low riders, this exhibition brings together work by 13 outstanding hot rod, low rider and contemporary artists to assess and celebrate their influence on the visual landscape of the Twentieth Century.”
“The automobile is a design and technical achievement usually associated with an automobile manufacturer and not a specific person,” says Nora Donnelley, assistant curator at the ICA and organizer of the exhibition. “However, the process of customizing a car mirrors that of an artist creating a work of art: precision, attention to details, aesthetic decisions and passionate concern for the consistency of the whole. Whether altering the design of the car by chopping and channeling the body; painting flames, murals or stripes onto the exterior; or diamond tucking the interior, customizing is a fusion of dexterity and artistic skill.”
Using still and video cameras, artists such as David Perry, Craig McDean, Alex Harris, Meridel Rubenstin and Ruben Ortiz Torres have documented the vehicles, people and culture of low riders and hot rodders. Photographer David Perry captures a broad view of the hot rod culture, ranging from the dark chop shops of the youth who epitomize the look and fashion of the culture. Craig McDean, an internationally recognized fashion photographer, documents the car culture he knew growing up next to a racetrack. Fascinated by the people who attend races, McDean creates portraits of people and cars as though they were superstars.
With the rise of Pop Art, internationally known contemporary artists began to draw on hot rodding’s icons and imagery to develop their own unique hot rod aesthetic. Artists Fiona Banner, Sylvie Fleury and Richard Prince have borrowed and transformed the conventions of car culture into film and sculptural installations. Banner is known for her handwritten and printed texts (which she calls workscapes or stillfilms) that she creates of her own narration from action sequences in feature films. In her wordscape from the car-chase scene in Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, Banner’s text literally reacts to the scene’s action by the sentences getting closer together as it gradually becomes more tense and harried.
Swiss artist Fleury explores the stereotype that cars are a male outlet for customizing and fashion a female one. Using various customization processes such as chroming or flaming, Fleury’s installations of appropriated objects evoke a female version of car culture. Also appropriating source material, Richard Prince repaints hoods from muscle cars that he admires, which, combined with the isolated design, captures the essence of the hot rod.
The Institute of Contemporary Art, at 955 Boylston Street, is open Wednesday and Friday, noon to 5 pm; Thursday, noon to 9 pm; and Saturday and Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm. For information, 617/266-5152.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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