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What Does the All-American Car Symbolize?

From muscle trucks to VW Beatles, this exhibition of painting and photography celebrates the automobile in all of its forms.
January 7, 2017, 12:45pm
Burned-out car, East Bastrop, Texas, USA (2011), Carolyn Monastra, digital C print

The four-wheeled automobile can arguably be considered a centerpiece of American culture. The crux of American roadtrip montages and the setting for teenagers getting frisky without the interference of the watchful eye of parents, the car has great implications for shaping ideas of free will and self-possession. Take into consideration how the car is still the second largest purchase among American households, and the national significance to pop culture is driven home even more.

A new show titled Vroom Vroom Beep Beep at Susan Eley Fine Arts in New York City fills a gallery space with the emotional and familar image of the automobile. The show features painting and photography works from Charles Buckley, John Conn, Victor Honigsfeld, Valeri Larko, Beñat Iglesias López, Carolyn Monastra, Maria Passarotti, and Ruth Shively. Within the official description of the show, the car evolves into an object with transformative and time-eclipsing power. It reads, "The car is so much more than a machine that moves people from point A to point B. It is a symbol of freedom, an emblem of America’s pioneering spirit, a status symbol, a mark of one’s wealth, and sometimes, a sad substitute for a home or a temporary place to lay one’s head."

Sag Harbor Blue (2016), Victor Honigsfeld. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

Car (2004), Valeri Larko. Oil on linen, 42 x 42 in. 

Howard Johnson's Parking lot (2016), Ruth Shively. Oil on canvas, 13 x 26 in.

Green Car (2016), John Conn. 24 x 36 in.

Driveway (2005), Maria Passarotti. C-print, 28 x 38 in.

San Francisco Truck, Victor Honigsfeld, San Francisco. Oil on wood panel, 10 x 12 in.

We spoke to Susan Eley, gallery owner and curator of the exhibit, about the concept of the exhibit. She says, “The idea for this exhibition came to me because I regularly see a proliferation of car imagery in contemporary art, both by our own gallery artists, as well as at art fairs and through other galleries. The car was an important subject for Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist and other painters working in Pop Art and Photorealism, beginning in the latter part of the 20th century. Artists today are looking back at the early days of the car and its impact on pop culture through a nostalgic lens (Charles Buckley and Ruth Shively's Vroom Vroom), while others are tackling the politics of the car and its impact on our social life, economy and environment (Carolyn Monastra and Maria Passarotti).”

Out West #9 (2015), Beñat Iglesias López. Oil on wood panel, 10 x 6 in.

Girls Rock! (2016), Ruth Shively. Oil on wood panel, 12 x 12 in. 

Floral Fairlane (2008), Charles Buckley. Gouache and pencil on paper, 18 x 24 in.

MNG Automotive, Bronx (2013), Aleri Larko. Oil on linen, 21 x 70 in. 

When will you be home? (2016) Maria Passarotti. C-Print, 29.5 x 36.5 in.

Vroom Vroom Beep Beep opens January 12th until February 24, 2017 at Susan Eley Fine Arts in New York. Find out more about the exhibit show, here.

Related:

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BMW Taps John Baldessari to Design their Latest Art Car