Houston’s Art Car Museum, a.k.a. the “Garage Mahal,” was founded in 1988 by Station Museum of Contemporary Art director James Harithas and his wife Ann. In his so-called Art Car Manifesto, Harithas defines an art car as “a motor-driven vehicle which a car artist alters in such a way as to suit his own aesthetic.” That can play out in ways both subtle and splashy—from a guy putting a Darwin sticker on his bumper to a soft drink enthusiast covering every inch of her vehicle in Coca-Cola memorabilia.
“The art car phenomenon is recent—roughly in the last 15 years,” Harithas writers. “However, the impulse to decorate one’s automobile or truck stretches back in time and crosses continents. Consider the vehicles in the Philippines, Cuba, Mexico, or Pakistan whose colorful decoration often invokes the protection of the Virgin or the gods. The art car concept in the United States is fundamentally secular, although religious subject matter is sometimes used, and derives a significant part of its inspiration from hot-rods, racers, classics, Jesus buses, low-riders, and hippie vans.”
The main draw at Houston’s free Art Car Museum is a rotating selection of stock cars covered in outlandish materials: skulls, stuffed animals, seashells. Larry Fuente’s fanged “Rex Rabbit,” pictured above, has been on display at the ACM and also appeared in the annual Houston Art Car Parade. (The festival celebrates its 30th anniversary in April 2017/) The Harithas additionally curate seasonal exhibitions of lenticular prints, photography, and video art. A recent lineup tackled everything from Corpus Christi’s low-rider culture to the environmental impact of fossil fuels.
140 Heights Blvd., Houston, TX; 713-861-5526.