Honk if it's art!

There I am again, stuck in traffic and staring at the bumper of the orange '80s Datsun idling in front of me. You know the kind of car -- the one with the political bumper sticker that makes you want to do something drastic, violent, something that could raise your car insurance another 50 bucks a month. It's just a sticker, just a little paper, ink, and laminate some jerk decided to affix to his car. But I'm livid, stuck in this slow lane to nowhere, relegated to contemplating how many bumper stickers I've seen. Then, the mind wanders to all those cars with stuffed animals lined up in the back window, those cars with tree-shaped air fresheners dangling from the rear-view mirror, and all those damned nonsense vanity plates. Not once does the word "art" cross my mind. Not once. Then, I'm not an artist.

If I were, I may have been able to channel my frustration into something like Rear View: Car Mirror Invitational. The exhibit is the result of what Steve Cruz and Rosemary Mesa call "late-night beer-soaked pseudo-scientific speculation" on the factors and traits that influence those who hang crap -- sorry, art -- from rear-view mirrors. Their only answer was to invite local artists to submit their version of car-interior art.

Rear View: Car Mirror Invitational features 25 artists and their creations, which span from the disturbing "Bubblegum Buddy," a squirrel-shaped taxidermist form covered in gum chewed by gallery members, to the delicate "Trust in the Lord," a pair of pink doll panties covering a heart-shaped pillow. Each hangs from a rear-view mirror, displayed at alternating heights throughout 500X's Project Gallery. There are found objects, paint-by-number pieces lined in red sequins, an action figure, a dog checking his reflection in a tea cup, and a robot-like doll made from a map. There are also three variations on the popular giant dice -- one that's house-shaped and covered in tan fur, another made from laminate and fiberboard, and one covered with pictures of people flexing their muscles. Tom Motley's "Defensive Driving," which features shiny roofing nails attached to the mirror by magnets, looks as though it's from Dastardly and Muttley's car in Hanna-Barbera's Wacky Races.

Car art isn't the only form of communication 500X's current exhibits examine. In her show speak up i can't hear you, 500X member Dot Duvall uses different types of visual-communication techniques to spell out messages that the viewer must decode using a translation sheet. She uses sign language to spell a Little Richard title in "Architect of Rock and Roll" and w-a-t-e-r in "Miracle Worker." She also uses gang signs, Braille, and Morse code. In "Oops!" Duvall signals the word "error" using the flag-waving military language semaphore -- which, of course, always reminds me of Monty Python's "Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights." Each piece contains panels holding one symbol, each spelling out the humorous and thoughtful messages. The paintings are clean and precise, like intriguing and beautiful street signs. Duvall also looks at personal appearance as communication with "Psycho-Mime: 'What?!'," a found object doll with red Einstein-like hair. The answers at 500X may not solve downtown rush-hour congestion, but they might make getting stuck in traffic far more bearable.

Shannon Sutlief

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Shannon Sutlief

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