20 Jun On the Road in Texas: Cleo Visits Cadillac Ranch

The Animal House book tour took Cleo and me through the Texas pandhandle yesterday and, to my surprise, we passed Cadillac Ranch. Here’s the history:

It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm, and it consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs; the tailfin) from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

I only caught sight of it in passing, then turned around because, of course, I had to see it.

I had seen photos of the original installation, that is of the up-ended, half buried Cadillacs when they still looked like they were right off the lot. They are now battered and covered with graffiti. I was stunned to see that families were out there with their children, everybody with spray paint in hand, defacing the Caddies. But then I realized that this is public art and meant to change as the public interacts with it. Graffiti is inevitable in public spaces. We could argue the right and wrong of it — what gives a graffiti “artist” the right to change our visual environment, especially on property owned by others?

But in this instance, it’s clear that the graffiti is welcome, so the kids climb all over the cars and paint wildly. Proud mothers and fathers snap photos. Everybody goes home feeling like they’ve accomplished something. It’s just a matter of time before the installation is nothing more than painted scrap. And then it will be a memory, a story told to children in future generations: “Once, way out in a field, there were these old cars – Cadillacs — planted like carrots. . . .” More power to public art.