When we describe a car’s aesthetics, there are certain words we tend to use. They can be sexy or sleek, square or sporty, functional or futuristic. Cars, however, are usually not called “fat”. Austrian artist Erwin Wurm is asking, why the hell not?
I mean, we all know why cars aren’t fat. Extra weight on a vehicle is inefficient: it becomes harder to control, more wasteful, and takes up space in an increasingly overcrowded world. Automotive designers and engineers are crafting cars to be popular in a competitive market; cars need to look nice and handle well. Adding on some chub seems to go totally against literally everything that actually dictates the formula.
But Erwin Wurm doesn’t buy into all of that. Like most artists, he set out with a purpose in mind. Cars are an almost-religious symbol in our culture. They can represent wealth, class, and taste; people collect cars, study cars, write about cars. They’re inescapable in the 21st century. So, Wurm decided to show that pretension in physical form: with puffy vehicles that are almost bursting at their skins with self-indulgence.
According to the New York Times, in the 90s and early 2000s, there was an art trend dedicated to making cars smaller. Artists were chopping up iconic vehicles like the Citroën DS to create compressed versions of the real thing as a way to undercut what were essentially cultural icons, similar to drawing a monocle on Jesus in The Last Supper. Artists wanted to show that cars were replacing art as symbols of beauty and contemplation, but point out that the real reason we love these vehicles is for their function—with all the important, iconic bits removed, cars are basically pointless.
Wurm liked that idea, but he wanted to take it in a different direction. He felt that the truly revolutionary way to make a statement about cars was not to make them thinner, but to give them folds and bulges that take up space and over-exaggerate the svelte lines and profiles we’re used to seeing. He was going to make Fat Cars.
For his first car, Wurm teamed up with French automaker Opel to make his dream come to life and combine the biological with the mechanical in a way that might make viewers uncomfortable. Unfortunately, their computer design software wasn’t designed to create natural curves, so he scrapped that idea and instead decided to just start with only a chassis and get his hands dirty.
The “fat” is polyurethane foam and Styrofoam carefully molded into the natural shapes we’re more likely to see on a human body than a car body. Finished off with a coat of laquer, these Fat Cars look like they’re about ready to spill out of the confines of their bodywork. In 2004, Wurm debuted the “Fat Convertible”; two years later came the “UFO”, a car with no wheels.
Looking at the Fat Cars is a pretty uncomfortable experience, in part because these anthropomorphized vehicles give the impression of having a will of their own—but also because Wurm is making a direct connection to the gluttony of consumerism that you can find in the automotive world.
But if you’re not into all that deep artsy stuff, Wurm’s Fat Cars are just kind of hilarious to look at. It makes you wonder what a world populated by squishy cars would be like.