ArtPace, San Antonio
Through September 6, 2009
by Laura Lindenberger Wellen
Rew-Shay Hood Project XVIII, 2008/09
See image gallery for full caption
Jonathan Monk’s Rew-Shay Hood Project Part II at Artpace offers some glossy Americana as a cool reprieve from this summer’s wilting heat. Thirteen vintage car hoods airbrushed with enlarged reproductions from Ed Ruscha’s book, Twenty-six Gasoline Stations (1963), hang, softly curving, from the walls. Light glints off their shiny, black and white surfaces; Ruscha’s desolate gas stations have never looked as appealing as they do on the hoods of a ’67 Chevy Chevelle or a ’69 Ford Mustang.
Drawn by the sexy black chrome of a 1963 Plymouth Fury and 1967 Pontiac Firebird, I wanted to like Monk’s two nightscapes best, numbers XVII and XVIII, respectively. In them, the inky black night hangs over the bright glow of electric lights. The blaring contrasts between black and white blot out the text of the stations and break the soft romance of the road trip, which is the real charm of some of the other works in the show. XVII and XVIII aren’t quite romantic, yet aren’t enticingly creepy or disconcerting either. The road trip here is almost mundane—continuing into the dark night, one is reminded of the feeling of endless highway to go and the boredom of driving.
More appealing are the day scenes, where, for instance, on a 1982 Chevrolet Camaro hood, puffy, almost cartoonish clouds seem to bop along over a gas station which advertises gas for 26.9 cents per gallon. Here, on XV, the handmade touch of the clouds is playful, softening the hard metals of the car hood and its subject. In XV, I am transported to the diesel station where my grandfather and I would place bets on how much gas would fill the irrigation system’s engine. The heat, the smell of gasoline, and the flatness of the landscape all come rushing back. I remember the soft, cotton-candy clouds from the summer sky on the farm, yet Monk’s depictions of them are unrealistic enough to remind me: my memory is tinged with nostalgia. His painterly car hoods are best when they allow for this wistfulness.
A pair of 1974 Chevrolet Nova hoods decorated with one continuous image of a Stop and Save station read like a double-page spread, but the book allusion here is truncated: the Ruscha text on which Monk is riffing was not on view. The translation from highway scenery to photograph to book to painting on sculpture could have been playfully engaged by the book’s inclusion; its absence was distracting and left the show feeling incomplete.
Rew Shay Hood Project Part II is as delightfully superficial and lustrous as Monk’s car hood surfaces. But it is also an enigmatic, coolly reflective show. The thirteen hoods feel almost like pauses in a religious procession, perhaps a shrine to a mode of travel that is increasingly fraught with guilt and expense. And, here is the heart of the show: while Monk could have given us an edgy commentary on the crumbling auto industry and a critical epitaph for the great American road trip, he instead offers a gently escapist reminder of that driving-into-the-sunset mythos we are all so fond of in the summer.
Laura Lindenberger Wellen is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. She is currently writing about Southern artistic debates and communities during the 1930s.