Interviewsand Articles

 

Rolling Art in LA: The Hood Gallery

by Richard Whittaker, Aug 2, 2003


 

 

Browsing the Yahoo listserv LAculturenet, I ran across the following: "The owner of the Hood Gallery is Per Huttner, a Swedish artist currently living in Paris." The post came from Jane Polkinghorn, co-director and driver of The Hood Gallery. The Hood Gallery, it turns out, is a 1990 Camaro two-door hatchback.
     Polkinghorn is an Australian artist from Sydney who met Huttner at an art residency in Santa Monica. When Huttner left to live in Paris, she took over the gallery on one condition: if she paid the insurance, she could drive the gallery around. 
 
A Brief History of The Hood Gallery
Huttner spent "almost $3000 on the Camaro—a lot of money with my standards." Lotta money and, even so, the Camaro's bonnet was "a bit funky." If the muscular Camaro was to be trimmed up for being seen on some of the better freeways of Los Angeles, it needed a paint job. While pondering this problem a muse paid Huttner a visit and the kernel of an idea appeared—why not let some artist friends use the funky bonnet as a canvas before the Camaro's trip to Earl Scheib?  
     Just about then, however—as Huttner describes it in an email note, "my life fell to pieces with sad love stories :-( ..."  Particularly so, since the object of Huttner's desire was meant to be the first artist to put brush to bonnet.
     In the wake of this personal disaster, Huttner sold the Camaro to a friend, Danish artist Morten Goll. Goll was moved, we know not how nor why exactly, to bestow the name Knud upon the Camaro. 
      Not long after the Camaro had received a new identity, "Sadly," as Huttner tells it, "Knud was attacked by another Swede—a white Volvo" at an intersection. The car wasn't too badly damaged, but Goll ended up with a new car from the insurance settlement anyway." Knud was left "in limbo."
     About then, Huttner was offered another art residency and now had a renewed reason to stick around in LA. He bought Knud back from Goll for a pittance. By this time, the idea of making the hood of the Camaro available to artists as an interim measure had evolved into something more substantial: The Hood Gallery.
     Huttner began driving the gallery and "launching new shows."  
     Eventually Huttner had to return to Europe. "But I could not possibly part with Knud," he said. So he appointed Polkinghorn, whom he'd met at his first art residency in Santa Monica, to be the new driver, and co-director of the gallery. The two stay in touch. 
     When I spoke with Polkinghorn by phone, there was one question I especially wanted to ask, "Do you drive the gallery around for transportation?"
     "Sure," was her ready reply.
     The following blurb appears in the gallery press releases. It caused me to stop and think.
     "The Hood Gallery is, has always been, and will always be a gallery on, in, and around the very much loved 1990 Chevy Camaro named Knud."
     Always has been? Always will be? A religious thing? Or...
     In an email note to Huttner, I wrote, "I like the poetic spirit of your declaration, but, of course, Camaros don't last forever. And besides, The Hood Gallery hasn't been in existence for that long. I wonder what your thoughts are on that?"
     Huttner replied without a hint of irritation.
     "Yes, I do agree with that. The thing is that The Hood Gallery has always been "Knud" and will always be 'Knud.' As for the car, I like the idea that it will always be there, but I suspect that sooner or later we will have to acknowledge the fact that Knud has had his/her time—but we will have to see..."
     "Hmmm," I thought, not yet quite clear about the matter. "This Huttner is someone of subtle mind."
     Perhaps I'd taken the "always" and the "ever will be" too simply. Should time, in the case of The Hood Gallery, be considered only within the parameters of its Knud-ness? Analogously, I suppose, it could be like the finite line which has an infinity of points. Was I to understand that The Hood Gallery's essential quality was that of Knud-ness? But clearly, that could not be the case. Obviously the essence of The Hood Gallery inheres in its hoodness, not its Knud-ness. But perhaps—and I speculate, since I have not confirmed this with Mr. Huttner—in some mystical way, the hoodness of the gallery was self-identical with its Knud-ness. And this was the point I was missing. Would not the entire Camaro be Knud, including its bonnet?—something like how an infinite number of points in any finite line just fills that thing up from end to end? 
     In any case, no more Knud, no more Hood Gallery. No more Camaro, no more Knud. No more hood, no more...etc. etc. 
      Recovering a little from my metaphysical stressing over these fine points, I noticed I'd been deflected from other questions. 
     After all, one's first association upon hearing about the Hood Gallery isn't about a car. It's neighborhood—or more precisely, that kind of neighborhood called "the hood." Does this not lead one's thoughts directly toward images of the barrio and the ghetto?— neighborhoods of low income, disadvantaged populations?
     One might expect the gallery to have aligned itself with this social context—if not territorially, then curatorially. But this has not been the case, as far as I know. Instead, the context of The Hood Gallery is much broader, the streets and freeways of greater Los Angeles. Is this larger neighborhood a state of mind perhaps?—a realm of worries and daydreams clouding the minds of auto-bound, freeway commuters as they stop-and-go along?
     One can ponder both that sense of possibility made concrete by the automobile, as well as the isolation that attends driving through space enclosed in our rolling bubbles accompanied by radio programming, CDs and audio-tapes.
     Try to think about art from any angle in this mix, and you have The Hood Gallery. 
     True, it's a poetic gimmick, but maybe it's also a visitation from the future that's present now, and in the process of breaking free. The clean, brick and mortar, well-lighted box, the monetized art gallery is still with us in spite of the decades-long efforts to establish alternatives. So why not a road-worthy, art-traveling messenger among the peeples?  
     As Huttner and Polkinghorn put it: "The Hood Gallery instills awe and amazement, instigates road rage, contempt, laughter and critical discourse on the roads of Los Angeles County to further discussion about art and curation. The gallery causes confusion among insurance workers from Texas to California. The gallery reinforces friendship and exchange, primarily between the countries of Sweden, Australia, France and the United States of America." And added at the end of this note one reads, "Donations for a new muffler system are greatly appreciated."  

Artstream
Also in the Southland—this time in San Diego—I ran across another refreshing discovery, Alleghany Meadows' shiny aluminum Airstream trailer transformed into a rolling ceramics arts gallery and creative gathering place: Artstream.
     I'd gotten a press pass to this year's NCECA conference (National Committee on Education in Ceramic Arts) and while immersed in the hustle and bustle, heard someone saying "have you seen the Airstream out back?" 
     I headed out back, and there it was, a 30-foot 1967 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht gutted and remodeled, and the exterior freshly polished. 
     As Alleghany Meadows, a full-time potter and creative thinker tells it, the concept of the Artstream didn't happen all at once. Originally he'd purchased the trailer for someone else, and the transfer never happened. The trailer sat for a winter while Meadows taught a workshop at Penland School in North Carolina. It was during this time that the idea appeared of turning the Airstream into the Artstream.
     As Meadows tells it, "An icon of Americana, the vehicle helps introduce people to utilitarian pots and inevitably sells work to an audience who may not otherwise venture into galleries."
     Meadows notes that driving the Artstream around entails risks and rewards which he finds similar to those involved in making art. On the road, one is exposed to collisions with strangers, for instance.
     A recent three week traveling exhibition stopped at 10 venues from Philadelphia to Alfred to RISD.
     As Meadows puts it, "Artstream functions as a commercial gallery, with me as the curator, accountant, schlepper and driver. The interior was designed for the display of utilitarian pots, with the counters at dinner table height and the cherry wood and paint chosen to reflect the warmth of a domestic space."
     More information is available here.

Postscript
Each issue of works + conversations comes together over a period of several months. During this period, I received notice of "most likely the last exhibition of this incarnation of The Hood Gallery." 
     What was this? Could the "has always been" and the "will always be" be heading directly toward the "has been" so soon? I contacted Huttner right away to find out.
     "Yes, it was with great sadness that I sent off that mail," he wrote. "I have been trying from Europe to find a successor to Jane as executive gallery director (she's going back to Sydney), but have come up with nothing... It is a bit of a delicate affair, since every traffic violation that Knud and its driver commits ends up on my table."
     And so, as this issue goes to press, The future of The Hood Gallery is unclear. I find myself wondering if Knud is up to the 400 mile drive to the Bay Area? hmm...
 
   
 

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of the art journal works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.

 

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