Cars as art?
Trends in the Phoenix subway say yes.
Two exhibits – “Laloland” at the Mesa Arts Center and “Desert Rider” at the Phoenix Art Museum – highlight lowrider culture, a quintessential American art form.
“Desert Rider” runs until September 18 and features art from over 12 Latin and indigenous artists from Arizona and the Southwest. “Laloland,” which fuses lowrider culture with chicane artwork, is open until August 7 and features the work of Phoenix muralist and artist Lalo Cota.
The Lowrider culture originated in Southern California, Texas, and the Southwest after World War II. It was an expression of art, family, and religion within Chicano and Latin American cultures, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Lowrider cars – then and now – are converted and renewed artistic statements.
“The automobile affects every part of who we are,” said Gilbert Vicario, chief curator of the Phoenix Art Museum. “And the lowrider culture has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, just because there’s so much more to embrace. It’s a testament to the fact that it’s an incredible art form.”
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What inspired “Desert Rider” at the Phoenix Art Museum
“Desert Rider” displays mixed media projects including the “Gypsy Rose Piñata”, a life-size piñata of the famous Gypsy Rose car designed by Jesse Valadez in 1963. Other works include motorcycle saddles, handmade skateboards and car photos.
Artists include Carlotta Boettcher, Margarita Cabrera, Liz Cohen, Justin Favela, Sam Fresquez, Luis Jiménez, Douglas Miles, Betsabee Romero, Cara Romero, Frank Romero, Laurie Steelink and Jose Villalobos.
The Phoenix Art Museum has a history with auto exhibits, Vicario said. In 2019, “Legends of Speed” unveiled more than 20 racing cars. In 2007, “Curves of Steel” highlighted the lean European and American automobiles of the 20th century.
In 2019 Vicario wanted to curate another exhibition focused on the automobile. Initially, it focused on traditional lowrider culture and then expanded to blend Latin and Native American artwork portraying automotive culture in the Southwest.
Vicario started brainstorming and slowly curators from all over the Southwest and even South America brought together “Desert Rider”. With the title inspired by the 1969 film “Easy Rider”, the exhibition shows how landscape and freedom work together through automotive culture.
“When you enter the show, everything is a surprise,” Vicario said. “It’s all visually so interesting. The stories that emerge from ‘Desert Rider’ are the ones you really wouldn’t expect.
“I realized there was an opportunity to tell a very different story about lowriding in the Southwest. It has turned into something that opens up the broader conversation beyond just lowriding and car design and thinking about how women were excluded from lowriding “.
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Lowrider’s piñata is “my funny retaliation”
Since the early 1980s, Las Vegas artist Justin Favela remembers seeing lowriders on TV, which mainly represented gangster culture. This inspired him to focus on the positive aspects of lowrider culture, particularly within the “Gypsy Rose Piñata”.
“Lowrider represents so much not only unity between families, but also links with religion and a lot of homage to Christianity,” Favela said. “It’s also this beautiful idea of a car that resurrects the car. It’s a symbol of American progress and for Latin Americans to take it and make it their own.”
His piñatas were born as a response to stereotypes within Latin works of art.
“If you’re not a white man in the art world, you’re not really allowed to make art on whatever you want to be,” said Favela.
“The art world pushes you to make art about your trauma, your bio or, you know, your identity. And so this was my funny retaliation. I thought, ‘I’m going to find the poorest symbol I can find and make it my vehicle. ‘”
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‘I will learn to do it’
At 77, mixed media artist Carlotta Boettcher is the oldest artist in the show. Born in Cuba and residing in Guatemala, Boettcher has spent her life immersed in automotive culture. One car in particular changed her perspective on art.
“I saw a car on the street that was badly damaged,” Boettcher said. “It was really, really broken and it caught my attention. But it was still running. So it passed me. And about a month later I saw that car and it was perfect. I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to learn how to do it.’ “.
Thus began Boettcher’s love of creating art cars, wrapping car exteriors in colorful paints, photographing cars around the world, and creating works of art that celebrated the automobile. Boettcher holds a master’s degree in film and visual anthropology, and both themes are expressed through his works in “Desert Rider”.
Boettcher’s works in the show include two car hoods. One is titled “Desert Shield” and focuses on his disillusionment with the Vietnam War. Boettcher also features 24 digital prints on cotton paper, all photos of cars she captured in the fields of northern New Mexico in 1996.
“As I drove through the countryside of those areas, I saw these cars in the most unlikely places off the road, in the fields, in the gutters, in the ravine or just tossed around like a broken toy, and they were in the most unlikely location. And so I photographed them “.
Other highlights of “Desert Rider” include a sculpture with an automotive finish depicting a Native American riding a horse by Luis Jiménez and Douglas Miles’ Apache skateboard wall.
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What to look for in ‘Laloland’
For Lalo Cota, lowriders have always inspired her art and are often seen in her paintings and murals throughout the Valley.
“I wasn’t consciously highlighting the lowrider culture. My work is a reflection of my love of cars and my lowrider experience,” Cota said in an email.
Since his works are predominantly murals, “Laloland” offers Cota the opportunity to display large-scale works of art that are not usually seen by the public. Each work incorporates the unique influences of Cota’s East Coast graffiti hip hop with its Chicano-style lowrider art.
“While I’m mostly recognized for my skull paintings, I don’t paint death,” Cota said. “I hope my audience will leave entertained and inspired to live, love, laugh and create with my work.”
Phoenix Art Museum: ‘Desert Rider’
When: Until September 18th. The museum hours are from 10:00 to 17:00 from Thursday to Sunday, from 10:00 to 21:00 on Wednesdays. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Where is it: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave.
Admission: $ 5- $ 23 online in advance; $ 2 more in person.
Details: 602-257-1880, https://phxart.org.
Mesa Arts Center: ‘Laloland’
When: Until 7 August. The museum hours are from 10:00 to 17:00 from Tuesday to Saturday and from 12:00 to 17:00 on Sundays.
Where is it: Mesa Arts Center, 1 E Main St.
Details: 480-644-6500, https://mesaartscenter.com.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] Follow her on Instagram @ sofia.krusmark.