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Art Car Museum In Texas Exhibits Art Cars Decorated With Personalized Expression.

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Rolling Works Of Art: Art Car Museum

Every Year The Streets Of Houston Fill With Unique Forms Of Art Resembling Things Like Rolling Turtles That Snap At You Or Floating Checker Boards

Winning Car In Houston Art Car Parade Displayed Inside Art Car Museum [Courtesy/Art Car Museum]

In April earlier this year thousands lined the streets of Houston to cheer on the most colorful parade in the states. The hundreds of cars that made their way to the City Hall were painted, covered in yarn, decorated with add-ons and – in most cases – completely transformed. It was the annual Art Car Parade, and for anyone who missed it the winning vehicles can be seen on display at the Art Car Museum.

Situated between sculptures and modern paintings, the art cars make a bold statement inside of the under-4,000 square foot space. It's hard to miss the Spoonozoid, a contraption completely built from scratch by local artist Mark "Scrapdaddy" Brandford.

"People think it looks like a lizard or a turtle," said Assistant Director Alicia Duplan. "It's scary when he's going down the street, because it snaps at you! It's really fabulous. But it doesn't look easy to drive."

And if anyone knows how it feels to drive an art car down Smith Street it's Duplan. She's driven her own art car in the parade for five years and driven for the Art Car Museum since she started working for the not-for-profit eight years ago. For Duplan, driving the award-winning art cars is a "different kind of fun." 

Car Formed Into Creature With Sharp Metal Teeth [Courtesy/Art Car Museum]
One Of The Crowd's Favorite Art Cars [Courtesy/Art Car Museum]

"Watching is a whole lot of fun because you get to see it all," she noted, "but it's so fun when I'm in my own car. The last one my husband, John Linden, and myself did was a Fiat someone had given to us. It was white. So we put tape on it and made it a black and white checker board. We also checker boarded our hair. We bleached our hair, had it buzzed, carved out and dyed black and white."

It's hard for Houston residents and art car enthusiasts to not get into the spirit. A fusion of fine, folk and public art, the art car movement was founded in Houston in the mid-80s. This year marked the 30th anniversary of the parade, which featured 250 cars from all over the United States and even cars from other countries.

It didn't take long for the art cars to catch people's attention – and their imaginations.

Artists Ann and Jim Harithas felt there should be a place where people could come to see the cars year-round. The Art Car Museum was opened 19 years ago and remains a popular destination for artists, fine art fans, car enthusiasts and curious travelers alike. The visitors come from all over the world for this distinctly American art form that celebrates the bold and the unique.

Said Duplan: "Most people don't dare to be that different. They don't want to stand out. But you can't be incognito when you're driving an art car."

Art cars are, in a sense, "reviving the sense of individuality which is in decline in our society." Driving a car that looks like a red high heel or one that appears to be steered by a large skeleton on its roof (holding reins) is a sure way to not only stand out, but represent oneself through a fairly new art form. 

The Art Car Parade Occurs Annually On The Streets Of Houston, Texas [Courtesy/Art Car Museum]
Assistant Director Of Art Car Museum Alicia Dupon And Husband With Fiat Checker Board Car [Courtesy/Art Car Museum]
Art Cars Are A Great Way For People To Express Their Individuality [Courtesy/Art Car Museum]

It's whimsical. It's exotic.

A subculture in itself, the art car movement represents minorities, modern artists and various cultures that continue to influence the 50 states.

For Duplan, the art cars "deserve to be elevated," so the Art Car Museum also features fine art exhibits as well. People come for the art cars, she said, but they are "hit" with fine art, from modern sculptures to photography displays. It's this juxtaposition that really allows the viewers to respect art cars as more than entertainment. 

"They're rolling works of art," said Duplan. "They're pretty fascinating."

The cars at the Art Car Museum are more than just a factory-produced, assembly line item. They are monumental in making the car a personal symbol, whether they are transformed with puppets, rhinestones, sculptures and paint or built from the ground up to resemble submarines, rocket ships and dragons.

"Get into the left lane and aim high, but keep one eye on the rear view mirror for the black and whites," said James Harithas in "Art Cars – Revolutionary Movement." He continued: "Change your vehicle, improve it, personalize it and make your own statement with it so that you can once again become on with it. Art cars are an expression of your freedom and, above all, of the God-given American right to be yourself and flaunt it on the highways and byways of America." 


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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