Visual Art

Bettina Pousttchi's Drive-Thru Museum is a Fascinating Love Letter to Dallas' Car Culture

Only in America can you tug the sleeve of your Lyft driver, clear your throat and politely ask him to drive-thru Whataburger for you at 2 a.m. Sure, other countries serve third meal at gyro stands or back alley cafes, but here you don't even have to leave the car. This drive-thru culture became a fascination for Bettina Pousttchi, who transforms a gallery space in the Nasher Sculpture Center into her Drive-Thru Museum, opening Saturday.

For her first American exhibition, she's laid down the black top, marked the lanes, and installed the scissor gates over the windows to signal its temporary closure.

"Unfortunately, we can't let people drive through," she laughs. "One of the very few places where you have to walk is the museum."

When the Nasher invited German-Iranian Pousttchi to participate in Sightings, a series that brings in international artists to create site-specific work and play with gallery space, she came to visit Dallas and scope out the city and the museum. In her early attempts to walk around the city, she discovered it to be fruitless.

"You realize quickly, this city isn't made for walking, everything is for a car," she says. "Then, of course, there are drive-thrus here are for practically everything. You have cafes, restaurants, funeral homes, and drive-thru wedding chapels in Vegas."

This led her to play with the functionality of the museum, as a space with varied experiences and services, converting a gallery into what feels like the inside of a drive-thru Daquiri shop or a car wash. This breaks the previous vein of much of Pousttchi's site-specific work, in which she transfigures the exterior of large buildings with projections of photography. Perhaps her most famous work, Echo, covered the facade of Berlin's Temporary Kunsthalle with photography, morphing image with architecture to reproduce the Palace of the Republic. She used 970 pieces of an image to create the GDR-era People's Chamber, which was the subject of controversy when it was demolished to construct the City Palace.

To create these large-scale installations, she digitally processes photography to manipulate the images into one large piece. Similarly, Pousttchi uses photographic prints on transparent foil to create the scissor gates that signal the temporary closure of the "drive-thru" in the Nasher.

"I started with photography on architecture that's only possible to see on the outside and to drive by and this is one of the first installations that's inside and outside, but mostly inside," she says. "So that's a big new step. Also, this is the first time, I've combined photography and sculpture, which is something I'm very interested in."

Using the art in the Nasher collection was a priority for Pousttchi, who finds the sculpture-dedicated space to unique in her experience across the globe. She chose pieces she loves or that fit conceptually to sit amongst sculptures of her own, creating an architectural artistic landscape that places the pieces in a new context.

"I see it as both separate pieces of art and one complete work itself," she says. "I wanted to match and have a dialogue with the space and the location."

On the one hand, the exhibit could be read as negative commentary on America's car culture experience, which separates drivers from their surroundings or from one another. But Pousttchi assures me it's not criticism.

"I'm not sort of criticizing cars. I love cars, they're a great part of my life," Pousttchi says. "It's not critical at all. It's a suggestion and a fascination."

Perhaps not a suggestion that museums should in fact allow cars to drive through them, but instead that we ought to consider the things we drive by everyday. That we should begin seeing the art in architecture, nature and pedestrians. Or maybe, it's nothing more than a celebration of those crazy drive-thru daiquiri bars.

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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart