weird houston, part 2: the art car museum

After having whet our appetite for the odd with giant president heads, we were on a roll.  "Let's go find something else to photograph," I said eagerly to Marcus.

"How about the Art Car Museum?"


The Art Car Parade is one of my favourite things about Houston.  It is exactly has it sounds:  cars are transformed into art, and then one day every year, they are paraded through the streets of Houston (you can see my photos of the 2008 parade here).  The cars are wacky and weird, some of them are irreverent and impolitic, but they are generally all really, really impressive. 

At some point back in 1998, someone had the brilliant idea of opening a museum dedicated to the art cars, since Houston has the largest number of art cars in any city.  And so, the Art Car Museum was born.  It's located on a relatively unattractive and busy street, so while I've passed it many times, I've never really been drawn to come in.  Saturday, it seemed, was just the day to change that trend.

We walked in, and there was a docent and the curator sitting in the entryway. 

"Hi," I said, brandishing my camera.  "Am I allowed to take pictures here?"

"Please do!" they smiled.

"Excellent!"  I smiled back.  "How much is admission?"

"It's free."


Marcus put a fiver in the donation jar anyway, and we entered.  The first thing we passed was a taxidermied moose head, dressed in what could only be described as the outfit first used by The Gimp in Pulp Fiction ...


... except, you know, made of belts and roller blades and high heeled sandals. 

Of course.


The space itself is really impressive.


The current exhibit, which includes several cars from past Art Car Parades, also included original works of art by local musicians.  Some of the pieces were mindblowing.

I, however, was completely taken by a sparkly vehicle in one corner:



This is Spoonazoid, created by Mark Bradford (who actually made all of the other cars that were present at the exhibit that day).  The reason for the name becomes obvious the closer you get to the Spoonazoid, for the exterior is made entirely from spoons.

"You want to know where the spoons came from?" said a voice behind me.  I looked up to see the docent.


"American Airlines."

"Come again?"

"After September 11.  American Airlines needed to get rid of all their metal utensils, because there was a fear that someone could use them as a weapon on the flight.  So Mark was able to get a bunch of spoons from them to build the car."

Of course.

"So, how does this work, exactly?"

"The top opens up," the docent explained, "and Mark gets in, and it's designed sort of like a recumbent bike, so he's leaning back, with the lid just slightly open so he can see. It's made of motorcycle parts, and he has controls in each hand.  The arms move and the jaw opens and shuts, and it growls."



"Yeah, this one's mean.  He's not sweet and friendly, like the one over there in the corner."  She pointed to the far end of the room.


I looked at the docent.

"That one's friendly, is it?"

"Sure," she said, grinning.  "Look at the twinkle in his eye."

I looked at his eye, and did indeed see a blue twinkle.  But it certainly didn't look friendly.

"So, how does this one work?"

"Mark climbs in through the back, and then lies on a hammock-like thing on his stomach, so that he can look out from a space under the head," she explained.  "And then, he has controls in either hand so he can steer."

I walked closer to the huge contraption.  I looked inside, and it looked very hot and cramped.

"Hang on," I said, "the art car parade is usually in May.  It's, like, 90 degrees outside.  He must be dying in there!"

"Well, we all suffer for our art, don't we..." she smiled. 

Good point.

"How fast does it go?"

"About 30 miles an hour," she said.  How awesome is that?  I'd love to take this thing and come barrelling down our neighbourhood streets, scaring kids on their Big Wheels ....

 ... Marcus snapped me out of my reverie, to remind me that we'd promised our friends we'd meet them for dinner.  We thanked the docent, and signed up to be on the email list for invitations to gallery openings that they have throughout the year.  Because now that I've gone, how could I possibly resist going back?

Could you?


SongFast car by Tracy Chapman