School of Art Gallery’s exhibit showcases the artistry and culture of automobiles

Laura Lofgren

Show features cars, Hopper and Warhol

For more than 100 years, the automobile has affected the world in significant stages. Whether it is changing the way we get from point A to B, to being a status symbol, to being one of the top reasons for environmental pollution, the vehicle has shaped the world into what it is today, and artists have been there every step to capture it.

Michael Sanata, a third-year graduate student and teaching assistant at Kent State, has curated the School of Art Gallery’s latest show, “Automobile in Art: Beauty in Motion.”

The exhibit displays works from several artists, depicting the transition of the automobile from its beginning stages to the 21st century.

“I wanted to show the changing perception of the automobile over the years,” Sanata said.

Into the 1920s, the car, with the exception of the Model T Ford, was only for the wealthy and was seen as a status symbol.

“It was a sign of class and status and wealth,” Sanata said.

Through the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, people became more accepting of the automobile. It brought people closer together; people were no longer isolated to one area.

“The boundaries of the world kind of shrunk,” Sanata said. “It was the coming of the idea of ‘planned obsolescence.’ (The car) became the equivalent of watching TV today. You’re in a set spot moving through space.”

The middle of the ’60s and ’70s, Sanata said, was around the time when EPA emissions and safety regulations began to take into account how much pollution cars created.

“The car suddenly became a burden,” Sanata said. “We became dependent on foreign oil. We were no longer self-serving.”

Into the decadent 1980s and 1990s, the car regained its symbol status.

Now people understand the severe impact on the environment that vehicles have had and are taking steps to reverse the damaging effects.

“Today, the vehicle is art,” Sanata said.

The biggest piece in Sanata’s exhibit is a 1960 Austin Healey 300 Mark I VT7, which is the centerpiece of the show.

Other works include those of Kent State professors, Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper and photographer Zoltan Glass.

The piece by Glass depicts a nude female on top of a Mercedes-Benz.

“This ties in with the notion that the automobile was compared to the woman’s body,” Sanata said. “The idea of driving the car was associated with the idea of sex. Getting to the car and driving it was a sexual innuendo. The back was the woman’s behind and the front, her arms or breasts.”

The main message Sanata said he wants to get across to viewers is how the art world works with the outside world.

“I want people to see how perception changes over time,” he said.

“The Automobile in Art: Beauty in Motion” exhibit will run until Nov. 20.

Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 330-672-7853.

Contact School of Art reporter Laura Lofgren at [email protected].