Adorned, Adapted, Added To

Visionaries Turn Autos Into Works Of Art

Movie Tonight At Avam, Cars At Artscape

July 16, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

The men and women featured in Harrod Blank's Automorphosi s, driving cars that look straight out of some avant-garde artist's imagination, must be the happiest, quirkiest, most approachable bunch of exhibitionists ever. Several of them will be at Artscape this weekend to prove it.

Blank's documentary, which gets a free screening at the American Visionary Art Museum today, features scores of art cars, automobiles adorned, adapted and otherwise added-to by artists holding to no rules but their own (and maybe just a few having to do with traffic safety). You've got cars shaped like sharks, lobsters, telephones (driven by a guy who designs phone systems, naturally), even the Virgin Mary. Using plastic, plaster, sheet metal, Astroturf, pennies, doll heads - in fact, just about anything that can be attached to a car and won't fall off in the rain - these auto-visionaries create works of true art, unique and personal statements that defy convention by celebrating individuality.

All that, and they're undeniably cool, too.

There's Eric Lamb's Land Yacht, complete with anchor and helm, and Hyler Brace's crowd-pleasing Big Horn, which looks something like a calliope on steroids, mounted atop a set of wheels. There's Steve Baker's Penny Van, covered with 90,526 copper pennies (not including the hundreds that went into tailoring Baker's overalls), and Dan Lohaus' TV Truck, a tribute to game-show hosts Bob Barker, Richard Dawson and Wink Martindale. There's Blank's own Camera Van, an old Dodge covered with mostly still cameras, several of which work and record the bemused reactions of unsuspecting onlookers. There's Rebecca Caldwell's Carthedral, a VW Beetle welded atop a 1971 Cadillac hearse that looks like something the Addams Family would drive.

Automorphosis largely contents itself with showing us the cars, which probably say as much about their creators as anything they (or Blank) could put into words. Still, there's plenty of unfiltered introspection when Caldwell talks about how her creation helps her cope with her own sense of melancholy, or when a beaming Brace, whose career as a race-car driver ended after he was badly burned in a 1970 accident, speaks of the joy he finds in people's reaction to Big Horn. As one art-car enthusiast explains, "The more toys you have, the more people like you."

Saturday at Artscape, more than a dozen art cars will be on display. Most are local, including Bob Hieronimus' We the People biodiesel and Holly Klemm's Blue Hawaiian. A few are featured in Blank's film or his book, Art Cars. And even if you're one of those people who would be mortified at the very thought of driving one of these things, who shrink from the idea of so blatantly calling attention to oneself, you have to admit one thing:

These are some pretty impressive cars, created by artists channeling some pretty amazing muses.

If you go

The screening of "Automorphosis" is at 7 p.m. today at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway. Information: 410-214-1900 or avam.org. On Saturday, check out the 16th annual Art Car and Other Wheeled Vehicle Show, Charles Street at Penn Station, as part of Artscape. A caravan from AVAM to Artscape begins at 11:30 a.m., with a parade through Artscape set for 12:30 p.m. Information: artscape.org

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