A beat-up, custom-painted '76 Cutlass at the corner of Penn Avenue and Winebiddle Street in Garfield was Jason Sauer's recruitment vehicle on a recent road trip with his wife, Nina, and son, Rowdy.
They towed the car on a trailer from Pittsburgh to Columbus, St. Louis, Houston and throughout the South to advertise and attract other owners of art cars to a juried show being held Saturday near the Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery. Mr. Sauer, who is curating the show, founded the gallery at 5015 Penn Ave. five years ago.
"A Vehicular Abstraction" will include 15 art cars, three of whose owners Mr. Sauer met on the road. The show will be Pittsburgh's first push-pin on the art-car map, with prizes in both juried and popular categories. Festivities run from noon to 4 p.m. The cars also will be on display tonight during the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative's first-Friday Unblurred street crawl.
"I'm hoping people will show up with their art cars," he said, adding that a heads-up would be appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The art car is a niche passion in self-expression that Mr. Sauer, a Mercer County native, said trends southern, but his interest coincides with his art career and love of demolition derbies.
Most art cars are fancifully painted or covered with toys, seashells, beads, buttons or glass shards.
"I saw a guy in Longview, Texas, in a VW bus painted to look like a toaster, with two slits in the roof and two mattresses made to look like toast sticking out of them," Mr. Sauer said.
His own approach isn't pretty or cute. He drives beat-up cars in derbies to beat them up more.
"Each one lasts a year because I scrap 'em." he said. "I cut the sheet metal and affix pieces to my paintings."
The genesis of the art car is arguable. Was it a hippie van slathered in peace signs? Buses in Latin America painted to depict Jesus and the saints?
Jim Hatchett, curator of the 14-year-old Art Car Museum in Houston, said the product as now defined grew from a movement that started in Houston 25 years ago.
Ann Harithas, a collagist in Houston, curated a fine arts show called "Collision" in which she included "one or two low-riders painted up real fancy, and a car called Mad Cad that was an outlandish, over-the-top Cadillac with all kinds of things glued on.
"Local artists, as usual, were having a hard time getting work in commercial galleries, or anywhere, so they thought, 'Hey we can put our art on the outside of our car and everyone will see it.' "
The art car has caught on in a handful of cities. San Francisco holds a summer Art Car Festival. There's an art-car agency that books appearances. Minneapolis, Seattle and a few other cities have art car parades, "but they pretty much pale in comparison to ours," said Mr. Hatchett. "We have grown to 300 cars and 300,000 spectators. It's one of our biggest events of the year."
Houston was a beacon on Mr. Sauer's road-trip itinerary. He contacted arts councils in every city he planned to visit, including New Orleans, where he had a gallery show. The arts councils provided names and numbers, and as he traveled he took pictures of art car owners and affixed the images to the Cutlass.
A Kickstarter campaign raised $3,000 for the trip, he said, "and we matched that. We had 82 backers. It was a dream of mine, to travel with my family and promote my passions."
For more information on the event, visit www.most-wantedfineart.com.