Few cultural symbols are more indicative of modern life than the automobile – particularly in Los Angeles, the city that grew around cars. ‘Piston Head II: Artists Engage the Automobile’, currently on view at Venus Over Los Angeles, cements this legacy by inviting artists to consider the car as a design object, a sculptural form and – ultimately – as a blank canvas.
The show is well-situated in the gallery’s 14,500 sq ft converted warehouse space, a perfect analog to a custom garage. Indeed, Venus collaborated with Lapo Elkann’s Garage Italia Customs in Milan, presenting two sleek sets of contemporary wheels: an Alfa Romeo 4C, hand painted with a scene from Hokusai’s The Great Wave, and a BMW i8, custom-wrapped with Italian futurist painter Giacomo Balla’s Street Light.
However, if the exhibition has a centre of attention, it's Peter Shire’s Mr Truck Goes to Coffee or This One’s for You (2016). A 1979 Toyota Flatbed with a multi-coloured, cylindrical enclosure, Shire’s work served as a bar for the exhibition’s opening (and shouldn’t a Toyota Flatbed always have a bar?). Not far away, Katherine Bernhardt’s colourful 1994 Jaguar XJ (Jungle Jaguar, 2016) and Jonas Wood’s tiger-printed Volvo station wagon (Untitled, 2016), take a stand for fantasy and childlike wonder, while Lawrence Weiner’s Nash Metropolitan drives you, stuttering and jolting, back into the art world.
An adjoining room takes a more cultish, noir tone with Matthew Day Jackson’s custom black Super Comp Drag Racer, Will Boone’s dark red, tarp-adorned Chevy Blazer and Sterling Ruby’s legendary BUS (2010). Nostalgia abounds – look no further than pieces by Richard Prince, Cesar, Olivier Mosset, and Keith Haring for signals that the automobile is taking a significant place in art history.