Most of us are at least vaguely aware of “lowriders.” They’re generally old American cars with creative paint jobs and hydraulic systems that move their bodies in all sorts of crazy ways. But you can take a much closer look at them at the Petersen Museum right now, and hot damn, these cars are unbelievable.
For about the next year, Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum is running an exhibit in its front rooms called “The High Art Of Riding Low” featuring a few vehicles and pieces of art that connect to lowrider culture.
My favorite was the sparkle-painted charcoal grille, but that folding chair is pretty boss.
I walked into the Petersen’s display area expecting to see a ’64 Impala (the quintessential car to turn into a lowrider) on wire wheels and weird shocks. And I did! But the detail work in the paint, the chrome, guys, the freaking brake discs were carved like jewelry.
Behold: “El Rey,” by Albert De Alba Sr. Everything in the exhibit is interesting, by El Rey looked like, well, the king.
You might actually recognize this car since it was named Lowrider of the Year by Lowrider Magazine three years in a row (2011-2013) and won awards at SEMA and the Grand National Roadster Show.
Every. Single. Surface. Is decorated, intricately, and beautifully. I don’t even understand how somebody could conceptualize this complex of a painting and metalworking project, let alone execute it. Respect.
If you see it in person, be sure to look under the hood at the sexy airbrush ladies. Sadly, my iPhone pictures came out too blurry to do them justice.
Also on display is Gilbert “Magu” Luján’s 1950 Chevy sedan, which was transformed into the artwork known as “Our Family Car” in 1984 with pinstriping brushes and lacquer-based textile crayons. Crayons!
As you can see, the car is much softer-seeming than El Rey and most other lowriders.
The museum explained that “unlike other lowriders, Luján humorously blends the aesthetic elements of street rods with symbols of Chicana/o culture. Through his playful use of language and imagery, Luján blurs the arbitrary distinctions between hot rods and lowriders, folk art and fine art, and artist and artisan.”
“El Muertorider” is a ’68 Impala by Artemio Rodriguez and John Jota Leaños, which is wrapped in a mural that the museum describes as addressing “themes of death, war, and policing” in the aesthetic of the Dia de los Muertos.
In the lobby, a particularly famous 1964 Impala known as the “Gypsy Rose” and a ’39 Chevrolet Master Deluxe called “Gangster Squad ’39” are parked on display.
The ’39 decorated in the Gangster Squad motif when the flim-noir style movie by the same name came out in 2013.
The “Rose” is probably best known for rolling down Whittier Boulevard in the opening credits of a TV show called “Chico and the Man,” but the original vehicle you might have seen there was actually wrecked in a crash.
The museum said that the car was so well loved by enthusiasts that it was recreated, exactly, down to its 150-odd hand-painted roses, pink crushed velvet upholstery, chandeliers, and cocktail bar. In April of this year, the car was inducted into the Historic Vehicle Association’s National Historic Vehicle Register.
Surrounding the cars are some paintings, small sculptures and mixed media artworks that are pretty neat too. And a giant piñata I don’t think you’re allowed to hit.
If you come through LA between now and July 2018, I sincerely recommend you stop at the Petersen and see this stuff. I’m a lot more excited about lowriders now than I ever have been, and after checking out this exhibit I’m definitely going to look more closely the next time I see one on the streets.