A display of art that really moves

Event: Dozens of cars decorated with everything from action figures to bottles are showcased during Baltimore's 21st annual Artscape festival.

July 28, 2002|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

When rust had eaten chunks of Tom Stuto's 1987 Mercury Cougar two years ago, his friends and family saw junk. Stuto saw art.

The Florida resident peeled away the rust, smoothed out the holes in its doors and above the tires and added his artistic touch - toy action figures.

Now the car, which drew grins and stares yesterday at Baltimore's 21st annual Artscape festival, is covered with an elaborate pattern of colored beads and the holes are filled with plastic likenesses of Yoda, the Tasmanian Devil and other popular characters.

He calls it the "Holey Mercatoy'd."

"My wife wouldn't ride in it because it was so ugly," said Stuto, a retired asbestos worker from Palatka, Fla. "But it evolved, and ever since the local paper did a story on it, the whole town's been behind my car. I drive my son to school in it."

Stuto put the car on display with dozens of others at Artscape, which was in its first full day yesterday. The "Art Cars" were one of many exhibits that drew thousands of people to Mount Royal Avenue yesterday to view paintings, boogie at concerts and gobble up turkey drumsticks.

Also on display this year is the layout of Artscape, which has undergone changes. Among them are a new food court - helping to create elbow room near the exhibits - and the relocation of the University of Baltimore stage.

"So far, so good," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which organized the event. "We've had a lot of positive feedback. Moving the food court onto the University of Baltimore parking lot made a tremendous difference - there's less congestion."

The day was highlighted by the parade of decorated cars, organized by the American Visionary Art Museum in the Inner Harbor. The show brought artists from all over the country.

Marino Pesce and his 8-year-old son, King, made the trek from their downtown San Francisco apartment to display their masterpiece - a 1989 Ford Taurus covered with toys. "The Toy Machine" is "Holey Mercatoy'd" times 10, with an estimated 2,500 dolls and action figures covering its hood and roof.

"There's nothing like driving down the highway, seeing a truck driver look over and then doing a double-take," said Pesce, 40.

The car, a project of his son's first-grade class, is a statement against American consumerism, or what Pesce calls "wretched excess."

All of the toys were donated by friends and people off the street. One of Pesce's favorite toys is a KISS action figure given to him by "a drunk guy in Portland" who saw the car sitting in traffic. Another is a likeness of Venom, a villain from the Spiderman comic books, which Pesce purchased for $1 from a homeless man pushing a cart in San Francisco.

Other vehicles were less elaborate. One was painted with names of Sept. 11 victims. Another, a 1970s school bus, was covered with shards of glass.

Hitting close to Charm City's heart was "Baltimore's Blues," a 1980s Pontiac station wagon covered in empty blue bottles purchased from a local glass factory.

`Some magic about it'

Seven people, including four people from a local homeless shelter and a Maryland Institute College of Art student, collaborated on a car they say symbolizes the city's struggles.

"There's some magic about it," said Zak Penley, 22, a MICA senior. "This wasn't planned out. We just started going at it and sculpting it as we went."

The back seat of the car is dedicated to lost loved ones. An old starch box was donated by a woman whose now-deceased mother mixed starch with her food. A young boy who recently lost his mother to cancer donated a small brown bead.

David Best, an art car guru from Northern California, directed the seven-man crew that worked on the car, which will be on display at the visionary art museum for the next year.

"There's always someone that I allow to put the last statement on it," said Best, who has helped design 35 cars. "I want it to be the most humble person."

He gave the honor to three of the men from the homeless shelter, who pasted on tags representing how long they've been sober - six months, 60 days and 30 days.

Other art forms

There were plenty of other art forms for the festival's visitors. Columbia resident Sandra Zweig and her husband came to see one of their favorite artists, Guan Wen Wu, whose watercolor paintings were hanging in a tent.

Zweig, making her third consecutive trip to Artscape, said the crowd is much less congested this year. "It's a whole lot better," Zweig, 53, said as she sipped lemonade under a tree.

But her husband said that while the event is better organized, he was disappointed in the exhibits.

"I seem to see less things artistically that catch my eye," he said. "I've been seeing more knickknacks than paintings and sculptures."

10-year absence

Westminster resident Lori Urban, who last visited Artscape 10 years ago, said she noticed more space as soon as she arrived.

"It was just too crowded before," Urban, 32, said as she stood in line to sample promotional razors. "You couldn't move or look at the exhibits. It was a deterrent to come back. Now you're able to move more."

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