Arte y Estilo: It's About Time

Low rider show at the Peterson Museum revisits the geographical and spiritual places that connect us

By Abel Saenz
Published on LatinoLA: February 21, 2001

 Arte y Estilo: It's About Time

In a bold -- if long overdue -- attempt to broaden its scope, the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire and Fairfax on Museum Row presents an exciting exhibition of low rider art that elevates and honors the uniquely Mexican American hybrid of form and function. Deftly curated by East LA native and Loyola Marymount instructor Denise Sandoval, "Arte y Estilo: The Lowriding Tradition" assembles a stunning collection that clearly establishes Chicano low rider art as a world class expression of high art and high style, on display through May 28.

Walking through what is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive museum exhibitions on the low rider phenomena ever, I am hypnotized by the exotic power the caruchos exude. Larger-than-life talismans that reflect fantasy and possibility, the 19 vehicles exhibited are de aquellas firme in a way that can never by truly communicated with words. Augmented by historical photos, critical commentary, a beautifully illustrated and superbly researched catalogue, tiny model lowrider replicas, a documentary film by Monica Delgado (Low and Slow, Ritual Films 1997), and award-winning low rider bicycles, the exhibition inspires unparalleled pride.

It transports me directly to the many the memorable car shows and hip-hop concerts I've witnessed, from Houston to Odessa in the west Texas wilderness, where Chicanismo is alive and well. From Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Tuscon, and Pheonix, all roads lead west. On Interstate Highway 10, raza has long made their way along the Southwest corridor, our ancestral homelands. For generations, I-10 has brought us west to Los Angeles, to our cousins in East Los barrios like Boyle Heights, La Puente, Montebello or Maravilla. It is critical to remember this because the highway is how we first came to see with our own eyes those magical chariots that Sandoval recalls from her La Puente past. With "Arte y Estilo," she has made it possible for all of us to come home, to revisit both the geographical as well as spiritual places that connect us along low rider and freeway lifelines.

Low riders, car clubs and those for whom low riding is a way of life have "shown me the true meaning of the terms 'family,' 'honor,' and 'respect,'" writes Sandoval in her introduction to the catalogue that documents the exhibition. Evidence of the considerable expense and efforts undertaken by those affiliated with the Peterson to produce the current show, the catalogue is itself a new definitive text on the low rider tradition. It fills a void that was previously so obvious as to be urgent. Appropriately, prominent LA artists such as Culture Clash's Richard Montoya and painter/sculptor Gilbert "Magu" Lujan are quoted in the accompanying essays alongside testimonials from the men and women who are more directly involved with the car clubs and low rider car show community.

It's in the exhibition is where Sandoval and the team of community representatives who assisted her really shine. Bobby Valenzuela anchors the exhibition with his 1938 Chevrolet Master Deluxe, a burnished and laquered bomba that glistens. Trimmed with an arsenal of chrome that catches light and flings it back with a vengeance, "Black Beauty" is burnished and lacquered in a black and burgundy body coat combination.

Equally significant are the entries offered by the Ruelas brothers, Julio and Ernie Ruelas, founding members of Dukes Car Club, one of LA's oldest and most accomplished automotive organizations, founded in 1962. Their twin 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxes are cherried a lo maximo, with Ernie's "Ghost Town" a singularly luminescent copper and brown metal flake and Julio's untitled ride a solid royal blue. "A true low rider is someone who comes from the heart?a true working person, [who] loves automobiles?. Lowriding is just a name?it's really a customized car?your sounds?your oldies music?It's part of Chicano culture," Julio explains in one of the exhibition panels that serve as guides to each vehicle and the manner in which it has been modified.

I imagine him staring quietly into the mirror-like depths of the blue body coat, proudly admiring his ranfla muy neta, while the lady from the university with the tape recorder in her hand listens.

The exhibition will eventually close. Julio Ruelas and his brothers will have done their best to make the show a success, to share a story worth recording. They will pack up their gear and haul their cars home to the shops where they continue teaching their sons and grandsons what it takes to make it low and slow.

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