|Suzanne Williams, Scallops and Stripes Confined With an Oval of Flames, 1975|
The Petersen Automotive Museum's "Auto-Didactic: The Juxtapoz School" surveys a group of artists in the circle of L.A. car customizers Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (1932-2001) and Von Dutch (1929-1992). Nearly all are associated with Juxtapoz
magazine, founded in 1994, and have ambiguous reputations in the larger art world. This is the art that Robert Williams described as "low-brow" or "feral." It's got an enthusiastic audience, like Dale Chihuly or Thomas Kinkaide do, plus a ton of critics who consider it extremely bad.
|Small detail of Robert Williams' Rapacious Wheel, 2013|
Unlike Chihuly or Kinkaide, this art is weird enough to be interesting, and sometimes good. There's now a long history of attempts to rehabilitate this sort of art by showing it in museums, and not necessarily car museums. Robert Williams, after all, was in MOCA's "Helter-Skelter "(1992), alongside Mike Kelley (another "low-brow" artist, in a way). The Laguna Art Museum surveyed Williams and Kustom Kulture in 1993 and 2008 shows. There is now a whole school of Williams, combining Old Master techniques with surreal sex and gore. But the best of this group may be Suzanne Williams (Robert's wife). Her abstractions draw on West Coast hard-edge and Judy Chicago as well as auto pinstriping. Someone really ought to give her a one-artist show.
|Mr. Cartoon, This is a robbery. Don't make it a murder, 2013|
"Auto-Didactic" casts a wide net, some 50 artists ranging from early Mad
magazine cartoonist Basil Wolverton(!) to Rick Griffin, Robert Crumb, Ron English, and Shepard Fairey. Most are represented with a single work or two, automobile-related even when that's not necessarily typical of the artist. There's a car hood by Mr. Cartoon, and a 1959 Cadillac El Dorado customized by Kenny Scharf.
|Kenny Scharf, hood of New Improved Ultima Suprema Deluxa, 2012|
|Cockpit of Ed Newton and Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Orbitron, 1964 concept car|
|Sandow Birk, The Surrender of OJ Simpson (large detail), 1994|
Sandow Birk gets more critical respect than most of the artists here. The Surrender of OJ Simpson
(1994) is an L.A. history painting centering on a white Ford Bronco.
|Shag, Melrose, 2006|
"Auto-Didactic" is occasion to reflect on the permeable boundaries of seriousness. I would be slightly mortified if a friend bought a Shag painting. But plenty of friends have framed animation cels, and that's great. Why the double standard? I suppose animation wears its low-brow credentials on its sleeve and doesn't pretend to be something it's not. Shag's paintings, being paintings, trigger invidious comparisons to more high-brow art. But actually artists such as Shag disclose their low-brow credentials upfront and proudly. (The winged eyeball is the Von Dutch logo, and the three-eyed gent in the orange truck is Von Dutch himself. The orange truck is in the show.)
What could be more dreadful than a "Big Daddy" Roth goof on Mondrian (except that I like the Rat Fink character, and it's cool how the flies buzz in de Stijl right angles…)
|Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and Jean Jacques Bastarache, Composition with Rat Fink Green, Red, Blue, and Yellow, No. 2 (Tribute to Piet Mondrian), 1995|
: News to me, but not to many others, is that Von Dutch was a Nazi. See Christopher Knight's L.A. Times
piece "Why is the Petersen Museum ignoring Von Dutch's racist past?"
Von Dutch's racism was addressed in 2004 articles in the OC Weekly
and Los Angeles Magazine