Pedal to the meddle

July 10, 2006

We don't want to stir what may be a tempest-in-an-'87-Tercel, but the latest Artscape controversy can't be allowed to pass without comment.

In case you missed it, organizers of Baltimore's annual celebration of the arts have decided that the traditional art-car rally and display won't do this year. Apparently, pasting dolls heads, CDs or dinosaurs over every square inch of a vehicle isn't quite, well, avant-garde enough. So this year, car-related entries must reflect a theme of alternative forms of transportation. In fact, the entries needn't be cars at all and are expected to include everything from children's drawings to a display of solar-powered slot car racers and a pedal-powered papier-machM-i Cadillac with an Elvis theme.

This may be upsetting to serious art-car artists, and, indeed, to many Artscape patrons. Art cars are one of the event's biggest attractions. It's not every day that one can find a full-size car covered entirely in sod alongside a hatchback decorated from hubcaps to rooftop in political bumper stickers. But the art-car owners have an alternative - they can put their entries on display a few blocks away at Altscape, the somewhat more underground version of Artscape that will be running simultaneously.

Organizers insist this wasn't meant as a snub to art cars but just as an effort to "shake things up" for Artscape's 25th anniversary. But it does appear that some feelings have been hurt. At least one long-time car artist has vowed not to participate. And Doug Retzler, curator of this year's exhibit, is feeling a bit defensive. "I just wanted to push the idea outside the box," he insists.

Here's an idea: Let us set our epoxy and paint brushes aside and declare a truce. Baltimore is a big enough town to accommodate those who would like to explore alternatives to gasoline-fueled travel and those who would like to decorate cars.

And if there are naysayers out there who are wondering if any of this is really art, we say come to Artscape and Altscape in 11 days and judge for yourself. After all, if a decorated car causes you to see the world a little differently - or if a bit of decorated papier-machM-i causes you to look at cars a little differently - then there's probably something worthwhile going on.

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