Filling the gallery is a hand-built drag car, a replica of the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am central to Overfelt’s work until it was mashed into a cube for the sake of art. This version of the car sits on a powder-coated hydraulic lift, custom-made for the installation. The car raises for viewers to pass under. Relative to most gallery shows, it’s a downright populist spectacle.
Overfelt displays a commitment to craft and scope that indicates more than a superficial kinship to the works of Chris Burden and Richard Prince that place the motor vehicle and its parts in a performative and sculptural context.
The degree of production value, and a memory of Overfelt’s video work documenting the original Trans Am doing burnouts, made me think about car movies. The 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is the car driven by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, the film of the same year. As the post-Vietnam 1970s boogied onward the cultural mood swung from existential anxiety to hedonist hi-jinks. What Smokey and the Bandit lacks in ontological enquiry it more than makes up for in stunt-driving and crashing. Easy-going and fun, it’s very much a product of its time.
A more appropriate cinematic comparison with Overfelt’s work can be made with 1971’s Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point, enigmatic films that put the muscle car at the center of existential quandary. In their blankness they host a variety issues and considerations from the personal to the political.
Perhaps, with Paul Walker’s untimely death in an auto accident, this is a post-Fast-and-Furious period for artists trading on the viability of the muscle car as an emblem of extralegal individualism. As in the more opaque road movies of New Hollywood, art about cars again tangles with philosophy and metaphor. In an age characterized by ecological crisis, geo-political terror and war, Free Bird asserts itself in a provocative way. The exhibition includes 2-D works made with motor oil and burnt rubber and court room sketches rendered by Walt Stewart when Overfelt stood trial for doing burnouts.
With forebearers from cinema to conceptual art apparent, Overfelt’s work avoids absolute nostalgia and engages instead in a living American history that includes the dragstrip, the mainstream, and the white cube. Free Bird demonstrates the capacity of the car for expressing paradoxical concerns even, or especially, when it’s most anti-social features are abstracted to the extent that a helmet and a parachute are required to operate it.
See more of the exhibition here