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Under the Hood: An interview with art car artist David Best

By APRILL BRANDON
May 13, 2010 at 12:13 a.m.

David Best with his car "Victory Over Sin."

ORIGINS OF THE ART CAR MOVEMENT

The origins of the Houston Art Car Parade can be traced back to the 1983 "Collision" exhibition at the Lawndale Art & Performance Center, which was curated by Ann Harithas and showed the work of David Best, Larry Fuente and other artists, according to the 1997 book "Art Cars: Revolutionary Movement."

In 1986, the Orange Show Foundation organized a show to spotlight decorated vehicles. By 1987, the Houston International Festival decided to make an official art car parade. Starting with just a handful of cars, the parade now attracts 300 art cars each year and includes a full weekend of events organized by the Orange Show Foundation, according to the book. Those events include the Art Car Ball, which helps support the parade, "The Main Street Drag," a caravan of cars that visits low-income areas in Houston and the Art Car Symposium.

Too often, art is only thought of as something within museum walls. The growing art car movement, however, is setting out to prove that not only can art be accessible to the masses, but shoot, you can even drive art down the street.

"In our culture, art alienates people. And I'm an artist, so I'm just as guilty as anyone else," art car artist David Best said. "You can make art so intellectual, you can make someone feel foolish. But an automobile with a bunch of Mickey Mouses all over it is something everyone understands. It's public art. It doesn't have that same arrogance or elitism. Everyone can enjoy it. Or hate it, for that matter."

Best is one of the artists who will be featured this Saturday in Victoria when both the inside and outside of the Nave Museum becomes "Art Car Central." His art car, "Victory Over Sin," won the 2010 Houston Art Car Parade's Best of Show award and the People's Choice Award.

"Winning the People's Choice award was heartbreaking," he said. "To be chosen by a community that you're so fond of was a real honor. I don't know why they chose me but I'm certainly honored."

A longtime veteran of the art car movement, Best, 65, has created art cars for 30 years. "Victory Over Sin," a 1990 Suburban, took him just five weeks to make, but more than a year to gather the material, much of which were recycled or picked up at the dump. While many of the art cars he and other artists have created were simply to make something beautiful or fun, this year Best said he wanted his concept to make a statement.

"This year, I wanted to decorate a large vehicle, like a Suburban. And in Arizona right now, we've got a law passed that means it's OK to stop anyone whose of a different color," he added. "So this car is in response to that law. It's a combination of response to that racist approach to interrogating people and a tribute to immigrant labor."

Featuring a large statue of the Virgin Mary on top, "Victory Over Sin" also sports recycled material of all sorts, as well as other car parts from 1958 Buick taillights, to a 1957 Oldsmobile bumper, to several different Cadillac parts.

Living in California, Best added that he believes a big reason the art car movement has become so successful is two-fold.

"One reason is that when Ann Harithas first started this, she supported people and for the last 30 years has been behind the curtain, making it stronger," he said. "Why it's become so successful in Houston and in Texas is that Texans are so friendly. They've got a spirit here. Where else would you have these cars driving down the street? The freedom that Texas offers makes it successful."

"Art Car Central" will be from noon-4 p.m. Saturday at the Nave Museum.

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