Often when I take a trip, I’ll have a look around to see what local car culture is available to see and experience. Such was the case last week, when I landed in Houston, Texas, for my sister’s wedding in Austin. Something very different from the cars I’d normally be checking out was available in the form of The Art Car Museum. In a way it’s almost strange that I haven’t looked more into art cars before this, because it bridges two of my biggest interests, art and cars, but I just hadn’t found the opportunity in Florida. Interestingly enough on a personal note, it was a trip back to Houston, where I was born, that brings us this unusual mixture of cultures.
Driving in, you’re greeted by this plane sculpture and a decorative fence outside of the museum.
This wasn’t a planned visit, so I was unsure what to expect going in, and despite them being in the midst of setting up a show that would open that weekend, the staff was very friendly.
In the entrance was this car, titled “Phantoms,” which was created by William T. Burge. This piece was based off of a Volkswagen Beetle and from the sticker on the windshield, was legal to drive on the street as recently as last year and probably could be again with just an update of the registration.
According to the staff member who was at the gallery, it’s not an easy car to drive, being right hand drive. He had moved it to this spot earlier that morning.
From the side, there seems to be some inspiration from the old Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic. There are also some creative functional touches such as the eyes of the gargoyles being used as headlights, and the sculpted scoops on the rear sides serving as intake scoops for the air-cooled Volkswagen engine.
When first entering the gallery, these two art cars greeted me. They almost seemed like cars from another planet, or something designed for a cool form of retro-future, which seemed oddly comforting.
In the past, I’ve seen instances of car-lovers disliking art cars for, in their eyes, “destroying” a car which they found important. In some cases that’s warranted, but I won’t debate that here. However, those who are concerned about it in this case will be delighted to find that these are mostly based on mass-produced common cars, transformed into something more, that being rolling, drivable art.
Maybe it’s my love of 1970’s wedge-shaped car design but I love this car, titled “Splinter,” by Isaac Cohen. Believe it or not, this started out life as a 1989 Honda Accord.
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, it is equipped with a manual transmission!
There was also this smaller version, titled Lil’ Splinter II, but they seemed to be taking it away for servicing or perhaps to make room for another car, so I didn’t get a shot of it on the floor. But this gives a good display of the scale of it, as it was so small that it fit into the back of a pickup truck.
On display next to Splinter was the otherworldly “Rosebud,” by Amber Eagle, which at first glance appeared tractor-based, but it’s surprisingly based on a 1997 Nissan pickup truck. According to The Art Car Museum’s website:
Eagle is inspired by ancient alien astronauts and outer space, as well as the richness of the Mexican culture. Using ancient aliens as a metaphor, she refers to ‘the stranger in us all’ in addition to ‘illegal aliens’, to guide the viewer to look inward to our own enigmatic inner space. Eagle has collaborated with Mexican craftspeople, her husband Guillermo Rosas, carpenters, electricians, mechanics and seamstresses to produce this body of work.
Next to Rosebud was “Mi Shell,” a Karmann Ghia-based piece, or “Karma Ghia” as they put it, by Kathy Kathaman.
This could be seen as a piece that changes over time, because occasionally the seashells would fall off and need to be replaced in areas. It was quite a thoroughly covered ride. Even the interior was bedecked with shells.
The Art Car Museum doesn’t just function as a space to look at art cars, but also as a traditional gallery space with curated shows and permanent pieces.
There were no title cards up at the time of my visit but much of the work seemed to involve gas pumps, which seemed very fitting with it being a show in Texas.
The pieces on display around the cars were part of a show called Ride On, which opened on May 2nd, shortly after this visit. Ride Onfeatures the work of Amber Eagle, Dion Laurent, and Jonathan Rosenstein. Check it out if you’re in the area. It will continue through the summer and admission is free.
[Disclaimer: The Art Car Museum did not pay for this article. I just happened to be in the area, went by and took some photos, and decided that it would make an interesting article. As said in the article, if you’re in the area, go take a look as there is a changing rotation of art cars which are displayed throughout the year. It costs nothing to go in and look, and the staff is very friendly.]