What We Wore: The Art Car Ball Houston, 2018

In 1984, Kit and Carl Detering donated a 1967 Ford station wagon to The Orange Show Foundation to be auctioned at our annual Gala benefit. Houston artist Jackie Harris transformed the car into a mobile work of art with a budget of $800 for paint and plastic fruit. The “Fruitmobile” was donated back to the foundation by the group of six who purchased it. Also in 1984, Ann Harithas curated an exhibition called “Collision” at Lawndale Art Center that featured two art cars. All this activity resulted in a number of art cars seen on Houston streets. In 1986, Rachel Hecker and Trish Herrera organized a New Music Parade in conjunction with the New Music America Festival. Some 20 artist floats and art cars paraded down Montrose Boulevard, ending at the dedication of the MFAH sculpture garden. A few months later, Susanne Demchak organized a “Road Show” at The Orange Show on June 29, 1986, 11 art cars were exhibited alongside the Fruitmobile at The Orange Show, with Lowrider demonstrations, and children’s art bike workshops. 1,400 Houstonians came, along with WFAA-TV and National Public Radio.

Roadside Attractions: The Art Car Parade was born in April, 1988 with a 40 car parade seen by an estimated 2,000.

In 1987, the Houston International Festival, the City’s official celebration of the arts, asked the Orange Show to organize a parade to build on the success of the New Music Parade. The Orange Show agreed to produce an event dedicated to art cars. Roadside Attractions: The Art Car Parade was born in April, 1988 with a 40 car parade seen by an estimated 2,000. By the following year, the parade size doubled and the crowd swelled to tens of thousands. Another important milestone came in 1989, when Harrod Blank came from California with his art car, “Oh My God.” On a quest to document America’s art cars that eventually led to his two books and two films on art cars, Harrod told artists all over the nation about the Houston Art Car Parade, and soon we began to see caravans of art cars travel thousands of miles to be in the parade. Another major milestone was the entry of Rebecca Bass and Edison Middle School in 1990. “The Body Shop” went on to win major awards, and started educators across the city to see art car projects as tools to teach life skills and engage students with their schools and community.

The Art Car Parade Today 

Today, the Art Car Parade is the highlight of a three-day celebration of the drive to create, Art Car Weekend.
  • The parade attracts 250+ vehicles and other entries from 23 states along with Canada and Mexico
  • A live audience of some 250,000+ spectators
  • Parade entries include anything on wheels from
    • unicycles to
    • lawnmowers to
    • cars and go-carts
  • Entries are as likely to be made by members of the general public as by recognized artists
Community groups, public and private schools, and professional organizations have become regular participants. Inspired by what they see, spectators create art cars of their own and often become future participants. And as the parade grows, attracting more and more participants, the complexity and quality of the entries increases.

Heres a little more about the Art Car Museum.

The Art Car Museum, or “Garage Mahal” as many know it, opened in February 1998. It was founded as a not-for-profit arts organization by Ann Harithas, artist and long-time supporter of the Art Car movement, and James Harithas, currently Director of the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, Texas.

The Museum has its conceptual origins in the 1984 Collision show curated by Ann Harithas at the Lawndale Art Center. Collision unveiled Larry Fuente’s “Mad Cad” art car which has since been featured in museums and cultural institutions across the country. The Collision exhibition provid- ed enthusiastic fuel for the art car movement in Houston and eventually precipitated the Art Car Parade and the international Art Car movement.

The art car movement is influenced by the modern tradition in art emphasizing personal expression and a choice of imagery or subject matter selected from popular culture. The art car artist is a pioneer of a new image of the automobile, an image which in its diversity reflects fundamental changes in popular consciousness, changes based on the desire for greater independence and individual rights. All art cars are subversive and have in common the transformation of the vehicle from a factory-made commodity into a personal statement or expression.

The aesthetic of the Art Car Museum draws from a fusion of the traditions of fine, folk and public art. The Museum features the most imaginative, elaborate and artfully constructed art cars, low riders and mobile contraptions as well as revolving exhibitions of art by local, national and international artists of all media. In addition to curated exhibitions, a unique opportunity is provided through the annual open call show for the artistic community to voice their response, via their artwork, to a topic of importance presented by the Museum.

Often considered the ‘Art Car Capital’, Houston has the largest number of art cars of any city. Art cars are fine art essentially free of the conventions and contradictions of the marketplace and the art world. The Museum’s distinctive scrap metal and chrome exterior was created by car artist David Best and provides an imaginative indication of the extraordinary constructions to be found inside.

– Noah Edmundson, Director