Art exhibits are typically stuffy, highfalutin’ affairs, with hushed guests shuffling around in Gucci loafers sipping champagne. But the latest exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, “The High Art of Riding Low,” turns that on its head thanks to the beautifully curated cars and art of L.A.’s famed lowrider culture.
Walk through the Armand Hammer Foundation Gallery and feel your mouth start to water from the vibrant visual candy on four wheels. The artwork that graces the gallery’s walls are no simple “pops of color” either, but rather every firework in a Fourth of July display exploding at once. This is the human version of what a bee buzzing around fields of wildflowers must feel like. There’s nothing dull or shrimp cocktail-y about what’s on display.
Exploring Chicana/o culture from identity to history to gender politics to rituals, the art featured in “The High Art of Riding Low” isn’t one consumed merely by one’s sense of sight. Look deeper and it’s easy to see this is all about the Los Angeles Latino community’s sense of soul.
Wallflowers need not apply
Of all the bright in the room, the 1963 Chevy Impala called the El Rey shone like the craziest diamond. Owner Albert de Alba, Sr., used a combination of chrome plating, metal etching, and candy paint on this three-time Lowrider of the Year winner as named by Lowrider Magazine, a sister brand of Automobile.
With pinstriping that seemingly stretches to infinity and chrome so polished you can see the reflections of your reflection when you gaze into it, the El Rey is a geometrically designed masterpiece of the highest, or uh, lowest order.
Lowrider culture isn’t just present in cars. As Denise Sandoval, Ph.D. and guest curator of the exhibit explained, in the Chiana/o community, even though they “use cars to create community and identity,” the artists commissioned for this show “refract the lowrider through a multitude of lenses, including surrealism, abstraction, conceptualism, folklore, kitsch, and popular culture.”
Some of the 50-odd artists on display have returned from the Petersen’s two previous lowrider exhibits, Arte y Estilo: The Lowriding Tradition in 2000, and La Vida Lowrider: Cruising the City of Angels in 2007. Julian Mendoza was proud to be invited back to show his work in such a significant capacity. If whitewall tires aren’t your thing, then surly the paintings, photographs, and graphics hanging on the Petersen’s white walls will be.
No video screens required
Every parent knows amusing their kids during road trips is no easy task. Artist Gilbert “Magu” Lujan (1940-2011), must have had that goal in mind when he created the 1950 Chevy sedan known as Our Family Car using pinstriping brushes and lacquer-based textile crayons.
Now in the collection of Paul Dunlap, Our Family Car is a playful and colorful “folk art narrative” as Dunlap called this rolling representative of the Chicano/a culture and street rodding. Plus, there are jalapenos painted on the doors! We say, genius. There’s no way a kid begs to watch a movie in the back seat of this family sedan.
It’s not just black and white
While it’s the only car in the exhibit without color, the El Muertorider, a 1968 Chevy Impala depicting evocative Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) imagery, features some of the most colorful black and white art imaginable. The movement in the swirling paintwork creates its own complex hue.
“I think of it as a low ride with high energy,” said Edward Goldman, co-host of Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s weekly art show ArtTalk, of the entire show. El Muertorider is a prime example of what he was talking about. Goldman speculated what people in Rome, Paris, and Berlin would think of these cars driving through their streets. We think El Muertorider is a car that would stand out across the globe — even in full black and white.
No Ordinary Love
It’s not just cars in the collection. Ordinary, everyday objects have been turned into extraordinary works of art using the same techniques applied to the spectacular cars — lace, endless lines, candies, and flake to name a few. From a life-sized piñata of the Gypsy Rose to a pair of roller stakes we would have died for in the ’80s to even a toilet seat, there isn’t any household item off-limits. If this is what their lawn chairs look like, then we want to BBQ with these folks, using the barbeque that’s featured as part of the display, of course.
A Rose by any other name
Inducted into the Historic Vehicle Association’s National History Vehicle Registry in April of this year, we loved this 1964 Chevy Impala so much, and appreciate its historical significance (cruising Whittier Boulevard in the opening credits of the ’70s TV show “Chico and the Man” for one) we featured it in the inaugural issue of our print magazine’s relaunch.
The 150 roses painted on the outside are stunning, but tell only half the story. With an interior that makes Elvis’s Jungle Room look like child’s play, Gypsy Rose’s crushed pink velvet might be on our list of best interiors ever. It looks like Liberace, Angelyne, the Pink Panther, and Hello Kitty all would get their party on in there. We’d happily be in the driver’s seat for that Uber ride.
All that glitters
The 1939 Chevy Master Deluxe, called Gangster Squad ’39, depicts hand-painted imagery from the 2013 Warner Brothers film of the same name. For anyone who didn’t see it, “Gangster Squad” was a pretty intense movie, and this Deluxe personifies both it and that time in L.A.’s “wild west” gangster history of the ’30s and ’40s. But to us the good devils are in the details.
The subtle pinstriping that extends the length of the body, the detailed graphics at the nose below the Chevy’s elegant hood ornament, at the back quarter panel and on the C-pillar, and the shimmering fenders are particularly impressive. But whatever you do, don’t call it glitter — this is metal flake paint that adds depth and dimension to the vehicle’s every curve. The Gangster Squad ’39 proves that even the manliest cars can handle a little sparkle.
The High Art of Riding Low: Ranflas, Corazon e Inspiracion, runs through Sunday, June 3, 2018. Go to petersen.org for more information about both the exhibit and the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Additional photography courtesy of Petersen Museum