The Car as Medium

June 29, 2011, 3:19 PM

At German Museum, Cars as a ‘Medium of Mobility’

Courtesy of Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie“Car Building 1960/2011,” a sculpture based on sketches from 1960 by Hans Hollein, featured at the Z.K.M.

“Car Culture: Media of Mobility,” a new exhibition at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, or the Center of Art and Media, combines the legacy of two local discoveries: the car and the radio wave. The show runs through Jan. 8.

The Z.K.M. is in Karlruhe, Germany, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, a region that lays claim to the origins of both technologies; here is where Heinrich Hertz defined the electromagnetic wave and Karl Benz devised his engine, both, conveniently, 125 years ago.

The Z.K.M. is an unusual cultural center, consisting of a museum devoted to art and another to the history of media, and the new show riffs on that duality. As Marshall McLuhan, the media theoretician, argued, the automobile is a medium not unlike the printing press, radio or phonograph. It is “an extension of man” and a means of expression, and therefore can be a medium for art. The show is clearly indebted to McLuhan’s outlook.

The curators, Peter Weibel and Bernhard Serexhe, along with the co-curators Manfred Hauffen and Franz Pichler, argue that “technologies of the 20th and 21st centuries facilitate new forms of independence from place.”

We may regard the mobile phone and the car as irreconcilable enemies, but the curators view them as two sides of the same coin. “As a cult object and symbol of individual freedom, the car is, par excellence, the medium of mobility,” the curators note in exhibition literature.

 Photograph of

Courtesy of Zentrum für Kunst und MedientechnologiePhotograph of “Cadillac Ranch,” Ant Farm.

The show combines electronic effects and displays, smartphone apps and physical art work, with the ground floors repurposed as a parking lot for cars-as-sculpture. These include “Fat Car Convertible (Porsche) 1/3″ (2005), a chubby red sports car by the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm, along with a new work of his, “Truck” (2011).

The curators also chose to exhibit images of the “Cadillac Ranch” (1974) by Ant Farm, which is permanently installed in Amarillo, Texas. Georg Seibert’s “Beetle — A German Miracle” (2007-8) embeds a Volkswagen in a three-dimensional grid, while Sergei Shekhovtsov’s “Duel,” an apparent riff on the Steven Spielberg-directed thriller of the same name, depicts a tractor trailer charging out of a gallery wall.

Courtesy of Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie“Crushed Cayenne,” Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser.

Read the rest of this article here:

A full slide show of the automotive works on display can be viewed here.

McLuhan on cars (from “Understanding Media”):

“The car has become an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete.”

“The car gave to the democratic cavalier his horse and armor and haughty insolence in one package, transmogrifying the knight into a misguided missile.”

“The car has become the carapace, the protective and aggressive shell, of urban and suburban man.”

Freedom – American Style

from “The Mechanical Bride”

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