This project is the first U.S. exhibition to
provide an inclusive, historical overview of artists inspired by
American car culture with an emphasis on the Midwest region.
Mapped across four thematic focal points, Life is a Highway
brings together a diverse selection of 20th-century artists who
chronicle the automobile’s role in reshaping the American
landscape and cultural attitudes of self-expression.
Life Is a Highway
is curated by Robin Reisenfeld, Ph.D., TMA’s works on paper
“Located in one of the nation’s and the Midwest’s leading
manufacturing centers, The Toledo Museum of Art is uniquely
positioned to organize this groundbreaking look at the impact
and iconography of the automobile in American visual culture,”
said Brian Kennedy, TMA’s Edward Drummond and Florence
Scott Libbey director. “TMA also serves as the arts centerpiece
of Toledo’s thriving cultural community, and Life Is A
Highway continues the Museum’s sustained commitment to
engaging our visitors in new and creative ways through our
exhibitions and educational offerings.”
As a key element of the postwar boom economy of the 1950s, the
automobile quickly became a symbol of freedom, individualism,
renewal, and middle-class prosperity. Its mythic status will be
examined across social, aesthetic, environmental and industrial
dimensions with images that both celebrate and critique its
Life is a Highway: Art and American Car Culture
will present the multifaceted approaches visual artists have
taken towards car culture. Each generation has experienced a
changing dynamic with cars, with visual artists uniquely
positioned to capture and examine that evolving relationship.
Thematic groupings will explore the emergence of car culture,
the on-the- road experience, automobility’s imprint upon the
environment and its use as a signifier of wealth, status and
Early depictions of automobiles will include works by the
American Scene artists and Farm Security Administration
(FSA) photographers Thomas Hart Benton, Walker Evans, Charles
Sheeler, John Sloan and Margaret Bourke-White along with the
more familiar Pop and photorealists Robert Bechtle, Jim Dine,
James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol. Modern and
contemporary paintings and installations by John Baeder, Roger
Brown, John Chamberlain, Judy Chicago, Kerry James Marshall,
George Segal, and Richard Prince will be featured, among others.
The work of performance artist and automotive designer Liz Cohen
will be on view together with photography, early video and works
on paper by Edward Burtynsky, Jonathan Calm, Robert Frank,
William Gedney, Alfred Leslie, Mary Ellen Mark, Catherine Opie,
Gordon Parks, Oscar Fernando Gómez Rodríguez and Meridel
Rubenstein, among others.
A uniquely Midwestern perspective:
Car culture is an inextricable part of the Midwest’s identity,
closely associated with its livelihood, labor, and community. A
significant portion of Toledo’s economy has been related to the
automotive industry since the beginning of the 20th century. It
is the home of two production facilities known as the Toledo
Complex, an automobile factory that began assembling
Willys-Overland vehicles as early as 1910. Since 1940, Jeeps
have been assembled in the plant, which is now owned by Fiat
Chrysler Automobiles. Powertrain Toledo, a
General Motors (GM) transmission factory, was founded in 1916
and has been the production site for many of GM’s transmissions.
A broad slate of public programming that will appeal to visitors
across generations – art and car enthusiasts alike – will be
organized in conjunction with the exhibition.
From June 27-Sept. 15,
the Museum will present a film series called Find One in
Every Car: On the Road in American Movies on Thursday
evenings and Saturday afternoons that will explore the impact
and central role of the car in American culture. On Aug. 23,
TMA will turn a parking lot into a drive-in theater to present American
Graffiti, celebrating George Lucas’ nostalgic love letter to
small town US-America. And on June 15, July 12, Aug. 24, and
Sept. 14, Monroe Street in front of the Museum will be
closed for car shows featuring unique vehicles, live music and
kid-friendly art making experiences.
On June 20,
the Museum will present a Master Series lecture featuring Chip
Lord, a media artist who works with video and digital
photography. As a member of the alternative architecture and art
collective Ant Farm (1968-1978), he produced the video
art classics Media Burn and The Eternal Frame as
well as the Cadillac Ranch roadside sculpture in Amarillo,
Texas. The automobile has been a central element in his work
with Ant Farm and as a solo artist. The Masters Series is
supported in part by the TMA Ambassadors.
On June 22 at 2 p.m.,
Robin Reisenfeld, Ph.D., TMA’s works on paper curator, will give
a guided tour of the exhibition.
For general information, visitors can call 419-255-8000 or
800-644-6862, or visit toledomuseum.org.