The main event at Ron Arad’s solo exhibition In Reverse, which opened last night at Paul Kasmin gallery in New York, is a series of Fiat 500 cars that have been flattened to the point that they look like Looney Tunes characters who met their fate on the business end of a bulldozer. The Israeli artist, who is better known for his work as an architect and industrial designer, decided to pursue this cartoonish idea only after it passed his standard litmus test: “You close your eyes,” he says. “And you ask yourself, ‘If I went saw this in a gallery, would I be jealous?’”
The sculptures are so surreal that it can be easy to forget they weigh as much as operable cars. (They’re not unlike the cars that the French sculptor Cesar Baldaccini compressed into blocks, only these can be hung on a wall.) Arad doesn’t consider himself a gearhead, but he became fascinated with Fiat 500s when he was living in Rome some 35 years ago. “In Italy, everyone talks about the Cinquecento,” he explains. “They say, ‘That’s where my parents conceived me.’ Or, ‘That’s where I first had sex.’” Or, if you are Arad, the car in which your father narrowly escaped death after being struck by a garbage truck.
The artist acquired his first Fiat 500 serendipitously: while stopped at a red light in a taxi, he noticed one had pulled up beside him. “I opened the door of the taxi and shouted to the driver, ‘Are you selling?’ The next day, his car was mine,” he says. It served many years as the artist’s family car—and sometimes, he later discovered, as a shelter for a homeless man. One day, he moved it into his studio, where it eventually met its fate. “Every day I’d look at it,” says Arad, “I would say, ‘One day you’ll become art.’”
“Ron Arad: In Reverse” is on view at Paul Kasmin gallery, 515 West 27th Street, through March 14, 2015.