Twisted metal, or the art of stock car racing

August 06, 1999|By Tom Patterson | Tom Patterson,COX NEWS SERVICE

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Since its advent in the years after World War II, stock car racing has enjoyed a wide following in the South, and North Carolina has been one of the hotbeds of this daredevil motor sport.

In hopes of capitalizing on its mass appeal, the Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art is presenting "Just Racin': Art on Wheels," a show of contemporary works inspired by stock car racing. Most of the works were created for this show, which runs through Aug. 27, and few of the 29 artists had demonstrated any particular interest in racing before they were invited to participate.

The show's theme isn't likely to inspire work of great depth or profundity, and, indeed, it hasn't. Nonetheless, a predominance of works as brash, loud and garish as stock car racing itself make this a generally lively and often amusing exhibit.

The more effective pieces celebrate well-known stock car drivers.

The cleverest of several that pay lighthearted homage to the South's most famous driver, Richard Petty, is Rob Kowski's "Life Is Good." This plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament, an icon of tacky culture, has been transformed into a caricature of Petty, wearing miniature versions of his trademark cowboy hat, wraparound sunglasses and cowboy boots. To complete the portrayal, its hooked beak has been painted with a cartoon rendition of Petty's familiar grin.

Wendell Scott (1921- 1990), the first African-American champion racer in NASCAR, is depicted by Roy Nydorf. "Homage to Wendell Scott" juxtaposes a realistic portrait of a fiercely heroic-looking Scott attired in a racing helmet with background images of his No. 34 cars. With its flamboyantly scripted caption texts, it recalls old movie posters.

Other noteworthy pieces include Dan Millspaugh's monumental cast-aluminum effigy of a robotlike "Gas Man"; John Rosenthal's trackside photograph of a huge balloon in the shape of a cigarette pack and Stacy Lambert's clever ceramic treatments of stock car drivers, pit crew members and racing sponsors.

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