Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cadillac Ranch

Standing along Route 66 west of Amarillo, Texas, Cadillac Ranch was invented and built by a group of art-hippies imported from San Francisco. They called themselves The Ant Farm, and their silent partner was Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh 3. He wanted a piece of public art that would baffle the locals, and the hippies came up with a tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin. Ten Caddies were buried, nose-down, in the dirt, supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. They faced west in a line, from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville, their tail fins held high for all to see on the empty Texas panhandle.

That was in 1974. People would stop along the highway, walk out to view the cars -- then deface them or rip off pieces as souvenirs. Stanley Marsh 3 and The Ant Farm were tolerant of this public deconstruction of their art -- although it doomed the tail fins -- and eventually came to encourage it.
Decades have passed. The Cadillacs have now been in the ground as art longer than they were on the road as cars. They are stripped to their battered frames, splattered in day-glo paint splooge, barely recognizable as automobiles. Yet standing in front of the cars you can’t deny that this is art in one form or another. It is a feat in itself to bury one car like this up to its windshield at such a weird angle. But to put down ten in a row at precisely the same angle is impressive and shows that the artist put a lot of time and effort into it. The piece is also something of a satirical comment on modern day consumer and automotive society. These cars are not cheap and burying ten of them like this sends a pretty strong message about how our society is built around disposable items and how the automobile for all its usefulness is reduced to a massive hunk of steel and rubber once it’s rendered useless. Today, Cadillac Ranch is more popular than ever. It's become a ritual site for those who travel The Mother Road. The smell of spray paint hits you from a hundred yards away; the sound of voices chattering in French, German, and UK English makes this place all the more interesting. I was here just after a downpour, and yet a steady procession of acolytes trudged through the ankle-deep mud to make their oblations. Many were barefoot, cheerfully slogging through the muck of livestock droppings and spray can trash, happy to be there.

Tourists are always welcome at Cadillac Ranch. If you bring spray paint, make sure to also bring a camera. Because whatever you create at Cadillac Ranch will probably only last a few hours before it's created over by someone else.

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