Art Cars: Wheels of Fun


(Vi, January 2012)

The idea to create a museum for art cars in a distant, dusty town on the U.S.-Mexican border could probably only be hit upon by a person used to driving through the desert in a VW that looks like a mariachi orchestra.

Not only does Harrod Blank supply old cars with new, imaginative disguises. He also collects the car sculptures and weird button-, grass- or brass-covered vehicles of other obsessed artists. Blank himself bought his first car, a Volkswagen Beetle, back home in Santa Cruz in California in 1981.

– I examined it closely and came to the conclusion that it didn’t really project the right image of me, he says.

So he painted it in signal colors and glued or welded plastic chickens, terrestrial globes, skulls, nesting boxes and windmills onto the metal. Harrod Blank wanted to become a documentary filmmaker like his father before him, but car art and art cars stuck to his system like a virus and forced him to take to the road and end up in dusty Douglas in the southeastern corner of Arizona. Once there, his interest in cameras worked out well: he got himself a van and covered it with 2.750 cameras of all kinds, from Instamatic to Hasselblad. The vehicle looks like a moving surveillance society on this border with its increasingly taller and longer fence construction.

Blank acquired some empty warehouse space, that is now being transformed into America’s, and perhaps the world’s, first Art Car Museum.

– The art car is the antithesis of the well-kept family car, he smiles. We don’t like the way regular vehicles look.

If a car reflects the inner workings of its owner, one must ponder and smile at the secrets of the person behind the crocodile car or the swimmingpool car. Sometimes a greater sense of gravity shines through, as when a Vietnam veteran tries to conquer his demons by covering his car with blue horses instead of spending time pouring down drinks in a bar.

The fact that the American car society can also be turned into an art scene is not so strange if you think about, although the small town of Douglas is placed as far from a freeway turnpike as you can possible come in this gas-devouring nation.