'Art Cars' 

Visual Arts Review | Thru June 15

Visual Arts Review
Art Cars, a light-hearted display of five former beaters (plus one wanna-be made from packing crates) on the Herron School grounds, may not have been conceived as a critique of “Art in Motion,” the 500 Festival’s recent attempt to do for race cars what Chicago and Cincinnati did for cows and pigs, but the temptation to draw comparisons is irresistible.

If nothing else, Art Cars suggests how less can actually be more. Herron students majoring in ceramics, printmaking and sculpture, as well as first-year students, Herron alumni and the Herron Gallery, were each given a woebegone automobile and challenged to turn it into an art piece reflecting their respective disciplines or experience.

The results are funky and a bit ramshackle — quite literally throwaway — but they also trade in the passing joy that comes of finding an oversized everyday object like an old Oldsmobile Ninety Eight transformed into something resembling a fever dream. The juxtaposition of real scale — the cars themselves — with artistic imagination is an arresting conceptual cocktail.

“Art in Motion,” the symbolic race cars dropped into over 90 public spaces around the city by the 500 Festival, on the other hand, has come and gone with all the impact of a Yugo. The notion of peppering the city with artfully treated race cars was cool on its face. Indy cars, especially some of the older models, are sculptural objects to begin with; they also represent an important part of this city’s history.

But what the 500 Festival gave us had nothing to do with history — or with race cars, for that matter. What we got instead were large, block pedestals with tilted race car models on their tops. After being tricked out as animals, flowers and other, sundry motifs, these colorful, visually confusing things were dutifully deposited at sites as far north as 106th Street and as far south as the Greenwood Park Mall.

There isn’t room here to give an account of the confusion and hard feelings that attended the administration of this project as far as many local artists were concerned. Let it suffice to say that a great opportunity was lost. No doubt working with real-size race cars would have been expensive and complicated; the number of cars to work with would have been greatly reduced, as would the number of sites where they could have been placed. Would that have been bad?

Imagine, say, 20 cars. Artists might have been better compensated, which, in turn, would have created greater competition to do the cars, which might have been sited downtown, creating an attraction people could tour in the course of an afternoon.

What we got instead was a classic case of what happens when people mistake the merely decorative for art. Yes, public art can visually enhance the streets and public spaces it occupies. But it also informs and reflects a sense of place. In order to do that it must be based on something real, something truly connected to the life of the community where it is found. Cars that are real — or that at least create the illusion of being real — create this opportunity. Pedestals that are little more than whimsical platforms for paint and knickknacks do not. The cars at Herron remind us of this. Or, as a passing truck driver laughingly yelled at me as I was checking them out: “Now that’s what I call art!”

Art Cars will be on display at Herron, 1701 N. Pennsylvania St., until June 15. The cars are for sale with proceeds to fund a sculpture at Eskenazi Hall. Call 920-2494 for more information.

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David Hoppe

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