Sometimes I have fixed feelings when artists appropriate the dear totems of mass culture. This anxiety can be characterized by the deep valley between “Sports Art” and art about sports. One appreciated by people who love sports and the other appreciated by people who love the cultural and sociological tectonics of sports.
This gulf is where I found the Pickup Truck Expo held at the Crane Arts Building. My dad thinks the Heisman Trophy is beautiful and puts horse manure in the bed of his F-150. Would he have found the Pickup Truck Expo awesome or annoying? Patriotic or patronizing? The most likely answer is that he would not have found it at all. This exhibition was not for him—it was for me—the artist. Someone who sits apart from the culture at large but is engulfed by its presences every waking second; someone who participates in the mechanization of products, capital, images, and psychology but is also thoroughly trained to examine and interpret the same body. When I think about a Pickup Truck Expo I think about a deep desire to relate to my father and a segment of the population he represents:
“You have a pick up truck? I have a pick up truck!”
“You use them for HAULIN’? I use them for HAULIN’ (art)!”
You have Pickup Truck Expos? I have Pickup Truck Expos (where we do art things in the beds)!”
I know this feeling and it is because I want to grab a hold of something solid—and true—and essential—and grounded—and, I’ll say it, American. It is essentially, all the things that a pickup truck might well represent. But in fact what I believe myself and a lot of artists are groping for is an empty mirage; one whose source disappeared long ago or never existed at all. If the pickup used to represent blue-collar culture, hard work, and the American Dream its simulacrum might be said to serve materialism, gluttonous consumption, exclusionism, rigid gendering, and vanity.
If I sound like a downer its because I am being one. The organizers and participants of the Pickup Truck Expo conjured a unique and charming environment in one of those rare events that galvanizes the Philadelphia arts community. It was also probably the most profound and complete transformation of the Crane art spaces I have seen to date. To quote my friend, “It makes the Icebox seem so small. Can you imagine how big car dealerships are?”
But I cant pull myself away from this concern: did the Pickup Truck Expo separate itself from the spoiled simulacrum of the American pickup or did it indulged in an easy aura of celebration? Did the artists use this as an opportunity to critically uncover the pickup truck’s place in the American tissue, analyze its problematics, and put forth alternative narratives? Or did they rest on the laurels? I’m not sure. Maybe the whole exhibition, by its very existence accomplished these objectives. I just get the feeling that an opportunity for hard questioning might have been passed over. Perhaps this wasn’t the place for hard questioning. Perhaps I should just relax. Perhaps next year there is not just a focus on pickup trucks but what the pickup truck means. Perhaps next year there are some sedans.
The 2012 Pickup Truck Expo
May 31 – June 3, 2012
The Icebox at Crane Arts Building
1400 North American Street
Philadelphia – Olde Kensington