On December 10, 2016 we welcomed the arrival of the famous Wrought Iron VW by Joe Gomez. His daughter Teresa Cerna wanted the car to be cared for by the curator Harrod Blank. The vehicle is in need of new seat covers and new carpeting but otherwise it is exactly as Joe had left it in his garage in 1994. Restoration will be done on the car over the next year. There are currently 23 art cars in the museum.
DOUGLAS — Slathered in an off-pink paint that clogs the stonework, the building at the corner of Ninth Street and H Avenue has seen better days. But step behind the aging facade and you enter a world of art, obsession and wonder — all on wheels.
The Art Car World museum is home to 23 vehicles that are as unique as the people and circumstances that produced them, said Harrod Blank, artist, filmmaker and the museum’s creator.
There’s the Coltmobile, covered in 1,400 blue horses — one for every time its creator, a recovering alcoholic, wanted a drink. The Carthedral, a fusing of hearse and Volkswagen Beetle, towers as a gothic dream with gargoyles and stained glass windows.
“Cumulatively, this is lifetimes of work. A whole man’s life made just that one. You could not duplicate that if you tried,” Blank said, pointing to the California Fantasy Van. Made by a vacuum-cleaner repairman in California, the 1975 GMC van jingles and jangles with thousands of riveted brass items and $15,000 in coins.
“That’s how intensive these things are, how special — and you can only see them in Douglas,” he said.
The museum, open by appointment only, is a testament to Blank’s passion for art cars and the movement he helped define.
Nobody knows for sure who made the first art car, who looked at a ton of steel and decided it would make a great canvas, but self-expression was definitely the reason, artists said.
Blank, now 52, was 17 when he decided his first car, a beat-up, 1965 white VW Beetle, did not represent who he was. He painted a rooster on the door. People thought it was cool, and it pushed him to do more, he said.
By the time he left college, his Beetle was painted in multiple colors, with all sorts of decorations glued inside and outside. It had transformed into the Oh My God!, named after people’s reaction to the car.
Having studied filmmaking, Blank shot a documentary about art cars, called “Wild Wheels.” He also wrote a book by the same name, both in an effort to capture and celebrate art cars and their creators.
In 1993, he started working on his second art car, the Camera Van, which was covered with more than 2,000 cameras and assorted photography paraphernalia. It took him two years to complete.
Throughout his efforts, his mother and father, Gail and Les Blank, both artists, were very supportive, he said.
“The average parent would probably scold their kid if they spent two years gluing cameras to their van when they’re 32 years old,” Blank said. “My father did say, ‘When are you going to get a job?’ But he didn’t stop me.”
Since then, Blank has written another book about art cars and directed another full-length documentary, “Automorphosis.”
While people’s reasons for creating an art car may differ, part of the appeal is the transgressive nature of the movement.
“We’ve been brainwashed to think that our car is a status symbol of wealth, status in society, sanity,” Blank said. “You’re messing with the image of the car, and you’re not supposed to do that.”
Tucson artist Diane Bombshelter said pushing those boundaries could be inspiring.
“Breaking that taboo opens people’s minds. It doesn’t have to be a certain way; it can be this way, too,” she said. “A little kid sees it, and next thing you know, he wants to be an artist or wants to be an art car artist. That’s fabulous.”
Bombshelter has made two art cars so far. One of them, Bottle of Doom, is at the Art Car World museum. Taking part in an art car parade in San Francisco as a guest of Bisbee artist Kathleen Pearson motivated her to make her own, she said.
“Just to see the look on people’s faces — they instantly smile, and they start waving and get all excited,” Bombshelter said. “It was infectious, their joy. I wanted to do that. I wanted to bring art to the public, instead of the public having to go to an art gallery.”
The irony of setting up a museum for art cars is not lost on Blank, who said a vital component of any art car is that it is, well, a car.
“That’s where all the magic is,” he said. “They’re nice here for you seeing them in one place, but they’re really much nicer driving around.”
Still, the museum offers not only a great opportunity for people to see the cars, but also a way to preserve what can be an ephemeral art form.
Owners have generally donated their art cars to the museum, which is a nonprofit.
“Either they get old and they can’t take care of it or parking is a big problem so they don’t know where to put it,” he said. “Rather than let it go to hell in the front yard, they put it here.”
The Art Car World museum came to Douglas thanks to Bisbee artist Pearson, who convinced Blank that he would find cheap land and a better fit in the border community.
“The architecture is lovely in Douglas,” she said. “The people are lovely.”
Pearson, who made her first art car in Bisbee in 1990, is represented in the museum by Love 23, a station wagon covered with 5,000 pop-culture objects on the outside and 1,000 more on the inside.
Following her advice, Blank visited Douglas, and in 2005, bought the old Nelson’s Glass building on Eight Street, with hopes of opening the museum fairly quickly.
The building was in disrepair, but he saw its potential as a multidisciplinary art space.
“Then I learned the hard way how much it takes to make a new roof, because that roof was caving in,” he said.
With help from like-minded members of the community, Blank has slowly moved toward opening the museum to the general public. In 2011, he bought the building on Ninth Street and moved the art cars there.
On a weekday in late November, Blank finished setting up metal I beams to support the roof.
“We had to do it to code, we had to have it engineered. People are shocked by that, and I was shocked doing it,” he said. “We’re going to move these big metal beams?”
His plan for both buildings is to not only have the museum, featuring space for each car with video monitors showing the story behind their creation, but to also offer artist workspaces and living quarters.
He wants to connect the two properties and add a gazebo to the top of the Nelson’s Glass building, and on top of that have a turntable with a replica of his Oh My God car serving as a beacon of art, Blank said.
Even in its unfinished state, the museum has attracted visitors from all over the world, he said. He has already had interest on the upstairs artist rooms, which he hopes will be ready in May.
“You’ll enter into a world. A world where art is king and everything is about art — making art, selling art, living art,” Blank said. “That’s the big dream.”
Article VIA: Arizona Daily Star
Images by A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star
I’ve migrated this web site and its blog to Laughing Squid’s new “cloud” hosting service. So far it looks as if everything’s fine. Please reply if you notice anything dysfunctional!
— Tim Klein
Last week on August 12, Kate Pearson brought in Love 23 from Bisbee. We were going to have several parties of visitors so I decided it was a good time to rearrange the art cars, spreading them out more and then adding about 10 more lights. It is much more like a museum now though obviously it has a long ways to go. 6 of the art cars are on tour and they will be coming back here sometime in early to mid December.
Today we’re getting a lot of interest in the museum and people actually wanting to visit due to today’s cover page article on MSN written by Claire Martin.
We currently have 18 vehicles, including the most recent to land here, the “Land Yacht,” by Eric Lamb! 6 of the vehicles are on tour for the remainder of the year with the new film I spent 13 years making, “Automorphosis” Thus the museum progress will be a little slower this year. I am hoping to work on another 16 feet of the roof this winter. We are currently half way done with the new roof. After that gets done likely end of 2010, we will begin work on the floor and the design work. It will take at least a few more years to complete, and this will depend on how much money we can raise.
If you want to make an appointment to visit, try back in the winter since we will be touring with the film through November to raise awareness. The film does end with the Art Car World Museum so it will be getting the word out.
We have done a lot since 2005, but we still have a ways to go!
Thanks for your interest
Here’s what Art Car World looked like in the very beginning. As you can see there are 8 art cars all of which are under the 1/3rd good roof which we spent over a month building. The dirt floors and the lighting will be improved over time as will the overall design. It will be fun to see the progress.
Sunday continued positively despite the rough trade in Oro Grande, and we headed off to Joshua Tree under very pretty, overcast skies.
First stop: the Integratron. We were invited there by Bonnie & George Kopp, who own the True World Gallery in Joshua Tree. The Kopps met Gretchen and Kate in Bisbee (both ArtCar artists), who told them about our trip. Not only did they arrange with Nancy, The Integratron owner, for us to get a free sound bath, they also fed us lunch. Our reception was grand and the ArtCars were parked around the Integratron dome. The Sound Bath was very relaxing “ lying on our backs looking up at the beautiful ceiling listening to music played on 9 quartz crystal singing bowls. The building itself was evidently designed to be part of a giant, hybrid-tesla-coil machine, which would alter matter in the manner of the Philadelphia Experiment. Its creator, George Van Tassel, did not finish it.
Lunch was great too, and we met some local artists including Bobby Furst, who really dug the aged patina of Daisy Singer and invited us to his studio.
Before that, however, we headed off to the amazing outdoor museum of Noah Purifoy. Seven acres of amazing assemblage, and it looked better than ever as obviously some refurbishing had recently taken place. This art installation is kept up by a foundation (Ed Ruscha is a big supporter).
Noah Purifoy was a great artist who worked on this place into his 90s. The ArtCars met him briefly during our 2003 tour, and he died shortly after that. It’s hard to describe this place, except to say it’s some of the best found-object sculpture on the planet, covers a large space out in the desert, and that you can’t see everything in one visit. Photos really don’t capture it, although it’s hard to take a bad picture here.
After communing with Noah for an hour or so, we meandered over to Bobby Furst’s studio, which is in a idyllic location next to the entrance of the national park. He’s got a ranch house, silver Quonset hut, and an airstream there – all of it chock full of cool found objects and sculpture. Inside his studio, massive beams hold up a loft room, and his bathroom is covered in copper. It’s a palace of Elastic Symbolism.
As if we weren’t already overwhelmed with a full day of visual beauty, the skies formed an amazing backdrop for all the art we saw. Lenticular clouds hung like UFOs all day, and then as the sun set it the sky exploded with color.
We floated off to our campsite in the big rocks, intoxicated with all that we saw.
We all got up early and headed off to Elmer Long’s Bottle Tree Forrest in Oro Grande, right on route 66. It’s a great installation. The bottle trees function as very beautiful pedestals for his assemblages, which are mounted on the top.
Elmer says he discourages donations because he’s happy. His wife, Linda, is happy too (Elmer does the dishes). I told him I’m retired from my day job to do assemblage full time and (do the dishes) too. It’s the way to be.
As is often the case with eccentric artists (like ArtCar folk) Elmer was welcoming, lucid, and articulate and his good vibe was infectious. Completing the analogy was Elmer’s dog, Charlie.
We went down route 66 a piece and stopped at the first service station at Oro Grande Center. It didn’t have restrooms so we walked across the street to a park with public bathrooms, but were immediately confronted with friendly, but quite sleazy park denizens. Raya tried to use the ladies room but a lady in there was shouting “Hello” Theresa is that you?” “hello?” Raya tried to communicate at first, but then decidedly wisely that the woman was circling the airport and the ladies room was out of order. Theresa, in fact, was outside accosting a gentleman who was trying to compliment our cars. Half his nose had been shot off or bitten off (not recently). He tried to brush her off:
Nose-man: “Why don’t you leave me alone?”
Theresa: “Why don’t you leave this park alone?”
“Can you PLEEZE not get in a fight do DAY!”
It was clear from her intonation and his face that she was referring to fisticuffs with strangers not squabbles with her. It wasn’t the only hint that we needed to vamoose so we started to mosey, but just at that minute Ken wandered into the men’s room so we all spent an uncomfortable couple of minutes chatting with half a dozen tweaked out desert rats.
Like I said in the last post, 8 Humans and 5 dogs.
– Marilyn Dreampeace & Sammy the dog in Wet Dreams
– Emily Duffy & Meela the dog in the Vain Van pulling a trailer
– Ken Duffy in the Mondrian Mobile
– Philo Northrup w/Raya Miller plus dogs Huckleberry & Dancer in Daisy Singer
– Jake Goldstein & John Merlie in Von Tiki will be coming as far as Joshua Tree
– Charlie Russell and Plato the dog in Cinnabar Charm will meet us in Joshua Tree
— Rebecca Caldwell Hellborne will meet us somewhere in the desert in Carthedral.
— Darrick Servis and Tank Grrl will meet us in Douglas in a mundane rental car they’ll festoon with magnets.
The rendezvous was supposed to be Pea Soup Andersons – it’s one of those really cheesy roadside affairs with bad food and a huge gift shop. In true Philo form I went the wrong way on the freeway and missed it, so we met down the line a bit. Turns out Pea Soup Andersons was closed due to a fire anyway.
The Von Tiki, our full service Mobile Tiki Bar, drove into the T & A (truck stops of America) hoping for a grand entrance but an exploding truck tire on a big rig upstaged it. Nonetheless, they came prepared with a windshield wiper container full of tequila, and new saloon doors that were also aquariums replete with fish. Marilyn Dreampeace added leopard disco boots that had fish tank heels. Weâ€™re ready for camping.
Once we got off the interstate the drive turned beautiful. The 58 took us through rolling green hills spotted with boulders. Trains paralleled out route and their tracks passed through tunnel after tunnel in order to climb 4000 feet. It was so picturesque that a photo of it would surely look like a Lionel set. As we watched them go in and out of three short hillside tunnels and wobbly prop plane dove right at us. As it veered directly towards the Vain Van we realized that an airstrip started just a few yards from the road. It cleared our caravan by only 100 feet or so. Planes, trains and automobiles . . .
As the sun lowered we were treated to pink hilltops peaking through purple mountain ranges, and buildings on hilltops that looked like foreign legion castles with 8-foot thick adobe walls. As we get closer to Edwards Air Force Base the mountaintop buildings turn to steel.
As always the ArtCars receive a constant stream of thumbs up and smiles as we drive. My Favorite was a van driving by our caravan holding up a hand-made sign (magic marker on ripped cardboard) that said “Love Your Car!” At the Firebaugh rest stop someone says they saw these cars at the San Jose Museum of Art.
Ken Duffy says over the CB that he saw the other Mondrian Car in Berkeley in the parking lot at work. He works at Oracle, or at least the company he works for was bought by Oracle. The “other” Mondrian car was made by a local artist that didn’t participate in events. She asked to be taken off the ArtCar mailing list about nine years ago and no one reported seeing it so I assumed it was junked. Turns out a technical writer at Oracle (Ken is also a technical writer at Oracle) bought it five years ago wants to bring it to ArtCar shows. Just as Emily’s Mondrian goes into Arizona retirement, we get a replacement Mondrian!