Lowrider Cars Cruise into Petersen Automotive Museum for Exhibit of Chicano Art and Culture

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Mister Cartoon is used to getting a lot of stares whenever he drives down the road, and it’s not just because he’s a world-famous tattoo artist.

The looks he gets on the streets are mostly because of his ride, a lowered 1959 Chevy Impala Coupe that’s spruced up with a custom paint job that mixes a light copper base with pink pearls and peach stripping.

The tattoo artist considers his car a piece of cultural art.

“When we look at our cars, we look at it like a canvas piece. We can drive our lowriders, we can drive our art,” he said as he stood across from his car in the parking structure of the Petersen Automotive Museum, where as usual the Impala was getting a lot of attention.

And Mister Cartoon isn’t the only one who thinks lowriders are works of cultural art.

He drove his Impala to the museum on a recent Thursday evening for the opening of “The High Art of Riding Low: Ranflas, Corazón e Inspiración,” an exhibition that looks at lowriders not just as cool rides, but as Chicano cultural icons and inspirational works of art.

“It’s a cultural show; it’s not a car show at all,” said Terry Karges, the executive director of the museum.

Housed in the Armand Hammer Foundation Gallery, the exhibition includes a handful of pristine classic lowriders and artwork from about 50 artists inspired by the lowrider and Chicano culture including sculptures, paintings, photographs, installations and one big colorful low-riding pinata.

“One of the great parts about it is, I don’t care who you are, you can’t walk through there without being impressed with the art form itself,” Karges said.

The exhibit opens on the ground floor lobby of the museum with another one of Mister Cartoon’s rides, his dark blue 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe, dubbed Gangster Squad 39, which the tattoo artist adorned with a door mural depicting gangsters from the era.

Next to the cool blue gangster ride is a loud pink 1964 Chevrolet Impala named Gypsy Rose.

Adorned with about 150 hand painted roses and an interior decked out in pink crushed velvet upholstery, chandeliers and a cocktail bar, the Gypsy Rose is pretty much a celebrity lowrider.

The car appeared in the opening credits of the 1970s sitcom “Chico and the Man” and was recently inducted into the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Historic Register.

Once inside the gallery another flashy 64 Impala is parked prominently in the middle of the floor, although this one isn’t a real car but a life-size pinata model of the Gypsy Rose created by Las Vegas artist Justin Favela.

“Is that a pinata?,” asked Los Angeles resident Andrea Vargas. “Yep. That’s just so cool,” she quickly answered herself as she strolled through the gallery on opening night.

Other cars on display include “Our Family Car,” a 1950 Chevrolet Sedan painted with folk art images by artist Gilbert “Magu” Luján and “El Muertorider,” a 1968 Chevy Impala customized with images of skeletons inspired by Day of the Dead.

Several of the walls in the gallery feature pictures of men and women next to their rides, as well as colorful paintings depicting lowrider cars and their owners out for a drive or parked on city streets and other images inspired by the cars.

There are even household items on display that were spruced up in lowrider style; including a fan, a barbecue and even a toilet seat painted in glittery vibrant colors.

“I think we’re really creating an experience for the viewer to reflect on the lowrider car as art object and subject,” said Denise Sandoval, a Chicano Studies professor at Cal State Northridge, who curated the show.

Sandoval also curated the two previous lowrider exhibitions at the museum, “Arte Y Estilo: The Lowriding Tradition,” in 2000 and “La Vida Lowrider: Cruising the City of Angels,” in 2007.

“With this exhibit we’re taking it on a whole other lane,” Sandoval said.

“We’re really taking it in a whole other direction of playing with the idea of what is high, what is low art but really looking at it through the lenses of artist that have shown at museum galleries as well as artists that come from the lowrider community,” she said.

For Mister Cartoon, the art show was going to continue well after opening night since he was planning on heading out to eat in his Impala, and he knew his car was sure to continue to get a lot of attention.

“I gotta find somewhere where we can find a nice place to park,” he said.

This story, by Richard Guzman, originally appeared on dailynews.com Photo by Thomas R. Cordova, Daily News/SCNG

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