Off Road: Auto Artists Inside Outsiders
Do folks that drive “art cars” also make the other art? Hell Yah!, “Can it be shown in a gallery? You betcha! But those of you who think that the only interior to view the creative skills of these artists is at the mechanics, think again. Yuri and his road warrior gallery have taken the grease away in their well presented show “Art Car Artists: Off Road”, July 1 through July 29.
Knowing that each of these artists drives a funky art car gave this reviewer a whole new direction while reading into this work. The art becomes a sort of a clue of what they may be driving. This can be literal, as in a bowling ball stuffed with corks signifying Jan Elfman’s “Cork Truck “ or it may be tricky as in the kinetic LED corset of Morgan L’Argent’. This sculpture hints at L’Argent’s love of gadgetry and it makes perfect sense that he rides on top of a comfy remote control sofa on wheels.
Many of the artists follow Elfman’s and L’Argent’s approach of illustrating their obsessions within their “smaller” art work. But let’s face it, to make an art car you first need to have a stiff middle finger and a big dose of obsessive compulsiveness. Mary Rivard brings the humor of Barbie heads and a spicy toy Gorilla into the gallery and guess what? She drives a Baby doll car! Cathy Cordes photographs groups of chairs, crosses and dolls wrecked by Hurricane Katrina. What Cordes drove thru that devastation, I never found out, but it likely brought smiles to the deep south. To its detriment, OFF ROAD doesn’t reveal by way of photos or text what cars the artist drives. Yuri explained that he wanted to keep the cars on the road and out of the gallery. Instead, he plays a clever card and lets the exhibit speak on the matter. I felt “Off Road” gave me this formula.
1(thing) x 10,000 + Cement + Car = Art Car.
For some of these artists, their formula for visual art is derived from elements of their art car. For example, Shawn Allison of the Karma Chameleon Car brings his painterly style of glitter-green from which he patinas rocking horses. JAO carries her forte of speed painting over, adds a few extra studio layers, resulting in a deeper graphic effect.
But of the thirteen artists in this show only two truly stand out, Jan Elfman and Allen Christian. Elfman achieves what no other in this show does with her contemporary “Tube Art”. This art transcends the literal and flies toward the skies of current art practice. Elfman fills acrylic tubes with tiny collections of pins, martini sticks, nudie cards and others and then stacks them horizontally like an abacus. This arrangement keys us into her compulsion to collect things while at the same time creating an almost Hirst-like pharmacy with it. Elfman’s collections in miniature suck you in and foist questions on the viewer of “Is this material important?” and “Do you desire me?”
It speaks not only to what she loves but also serves as micro-time capsules of our society. While the tubes are fascinating to look at close up, I wonder if Elfman has ever thought of how to make it more interesting to view these from a distance. Regardless, the “Tube Art” is covetable as any one of its contents could be the seed of inspiration for an future art car.
Allen Christian’s art feels more primitive compared to an Elfman work. His art is firmly grounded in representation. From a distance, “Piano Man” and “Pipe Man” read as figures and as objects we know well. His art is simple in idea but complex in its execution. It is well made sculpture. They are made out of the materials that they named for. The shiny pipes in “Pipe Man” coaxed this reviewer to the land of Oz and the character of the Tin Man. But instead of a funnel for a cap, Christian’s wears a bucket. In “Piano Man” the head is made from a piano’s guts, the hammers form the skull and the foot pedals rest as eyes. The work as a whole feels like it was crafted by a mad tuner, tweaked with frustration over an instrument that wouldn’t adjust. Consequently, Christian’s art feels so at home in this gallery for outsiders.
Possibly, that is why Christian’s art succeeds so well here. It is made to feel like your neighbor, ‘Chuck the pipeguy’, threw it together in his spare time and when it comes from that place, it is the real deal.
Art Car Artists: OFF ROAD is up till Saturday July 29th, Hours W,F,Sa-12-5 &Th-12-7 . 1010 Park Ave., Mpls, Mn
Mark Wojahn is a member of the Visual Art Critics Union of Minnesota, VACUM.
For more info on VACUM, please go to www.mnartists.org/vacum .