The turn of the New Year means it’s time once again for that venerable Motor City tradition, the annual North American International Auto Show.
For the true devotees, the motor vehicle is a study of science and aesthetics — and big, splashy events like the auto show tend to focus more on the latter. It’s assumed all of today’s cars are built on a high performance standard, so the real seller is the car’s “attitude” — sexy, sporty, powerful, zippy, trendy, whatever.
Carving these human attributes into a hunk of metal and wiring is much like a sculptor evoking emotion from a slab of cold marble — and thus, it’s no surprise auto design is one of the most desirable careers for aspiring young artists of today.
It’s fascinating to watch artists discuss cars as art — some sneer and scoff, whispering “commercialism” and “sell out” under their breath, and others happily fund their art careers via day jobs in the auto industry.
Alas, detroit contemporary has abandoned its delightful anti-auto show, which allowed local artists to express their love and loathing of cars in a quirky and wholly original art show. Fortunately, the second annual Motor City Sleds exhibit at CPOP is back again to fill that void.
The show is curated by retro-flavored Detroit artist Slaw, who has some of the most charming pieces on display. Slaw’s fascination with the ’50s and ’60s coincides with the time when Americans really started to fall in love with the automobile; cars became a necessity for most middle-class families, the auto industry put food on the table and the cars themselves were the length of a city block. In “Woman Driver,” one of Slaw’s pipe-smoking gents races to his beloved mile-long baby to rescue it from the curvy pinup dangling keys behind the steering wheel.
Tyree Guyton has one of his “junk art” pieces on display; a collision of colors splashed onto a crumpled hood of a car. Camilo Pardo produces a handful of canvases slicked down with sharp, sexy renderings of Mustangs and Ferraris — not surprising, considering the notable local artist is also a top designer for Ford by day.
One of the more interesting pieces comes from Davin Brainard, who has an apparent fascination with werewolves. In his take on the UAW, the initials actually stand for the United Auto Werewolves; these words are scribbled in red next to a crimson-eyed wolf, who triumphantly hoists a wrench, dripping with blood, into the air. There’s also “Wolf Buggy” and “Wolf Date,” where the lycanthropes in question get busy in the backseat.
The collection is rounded out by several pieces from Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, father of the Rat Fink — the pinup boy, er, rodent of Kustom Kulture hot rod art. The Rat Fink, a bloodshot- and bug-eyed rat, is frequently depicted shifting gears on a souped-up hot rod, groping an overly endowed female, slugging a can of motor oil, you know, the usual. Roth is perhaps the first man of hot rod art; a gearhead and struggling artist who began his art career in the 1960s by selling his drawings at drag races and car conventions. The Fink eventually became so popular, it’s now considered a symbol of hot rod culture.
The Motor City Sleds II exhibit runs until February at CPOP, 4160 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. Call 313-833-9901 or visit www.cpop.com for more information.Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected].