It's 4 p.m. on a Wednesday and I'm climbing into the body of a 1975 Datsun Z, receiving instructions that amount to "flip this switch and jiggle that one" with the warning that "just know, it will actually be quite startling." I'm sitting on a false seat in the driver's seat, when the entire car shudders and it lets out an enormous roar. I squeal. You would too.
This car, which is being built from scratch, is part of artist Francisco Moreno's WCD Project, part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's inaugural Soluna Festival in May. For the past few years, Moreno has been constructing the car as part of a performative installation that is a variation on the famous painting, "Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emmanuel Luetze.
Moreno's interests in incorporating contemporary American themes into art history are not new. For his thesis project at the Rhode Island School of Design, he transformed Velázquez's "Las Meninas" into a 3-dimensional abstract painting, combining elements of Picasso's analytical cubism with sculptural, conceptual elements. It wasn't until an episode of "The Colbert Report," in which he interviews the curator at The Met just after they'd rehung the monumental "Washington Crossing the Delaware" that Moreno was struck by the piece's power.
"When the piece was being reintroduced, re-contextualized in pop culture, that's when it became an interesting subject for me," says Moreno. "The piece [has a] global quality."
Moreno, who moved from Mexico to Texas as a child, became a naturalized American citizen in 2007, which is perhaps what draws him to the issues of immigration and globalization, although he rejects the idea that artists need to make work solely about their heritage. For Moreno, this project, like all the others, is about painting and creating the work, not necessarily a sense of advocacy.
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"How do you address these issues of being of somewhere else, without being overtly, look at how brown I am?" says Moreno. "I don't mean there's anything wrong with identity art, but for me I'm interested in tapping into something so much more complex."
Perhaps that's why his work unites these seemingly disparate elements. He's using dazzle camouflage -- a method used to obscure naval ships -- to abstract a classic American painting by a German-American immigrant, to create a backdrop for a post-war Japanese car, reconstructed by Moreno and his brothers with an American engine, which will perform doughnuts in a giant warehouse. And this complicated run-on sentence of a project contains a great deal of nuance. The camouflage becomes a metaphor for assimilating, the American muscle-car engine in a Japanese car speaks to questions of identity. And while Moreno learns the craft of automobiles in a city that relies on American car-culture, he's likely earning the respect of his brothers who see up close painting's handiness and the open-mindness of visual art. His project creates a dialogue between the artists and the car people, which has precedence in sculptures like Charles Ray's unpainted sculpture and the decidedly lowbrow car art parades.
"The car itself is being created for purely decadent reasons, kind of like a painting," says Moreno.
The project has already earned Moreno attention with several grants, including one from the Dallas Museum of Art. See the finished work in a May performance at the Soluna Festival, or swing by Moreno's Open Studios from 12-5 p.m. Sunday. Check out his Kickstarter page for more information about the project.