Some of our earliest childhood memories involve automobiles—rides with the family, toy cars and trucks on the floor, perhaps a first experience with public transportation. We begin to build associations with autos well before we take the wheel ourselves. In Keith Simpson: CARS, the first-ever digital drop from Fort Makers (the NYC-based concept store, design studio and gallery), artist and professor Keith Simpson channels the nostalgia for vintage auto design. He evokes sensations of home and freedom, comfort and escape, play and professionalism. Through a fleet of 20 ceramic sculptures, Simpson stares at America’s obsession with the automobile and how we’ve bound cars to youth culture and the dream of escape. These aren’t toy cars, but they’re playful. And in many ways, they’re relics of what they represent.
“As a kid growing up in a suburb in New Jersey, getting my driver’s license meant getting freedom—freedom of the open road, freedom to speed or break laws or have sex,” Nana Spears, Fort Makers’ Creative Director, explains to us about the show’s curation. “It allowed kids the opportunity to start defining themselves as adults and it literally meant for some kids that they could get the hell out of dodge; that they could escape.”
“Since the ’50s, the car has become a symbol of American freedom, and it’s obvious why,” she continues. “Films, music and visual arts have played upon this car mythology because it’s very interesting. Cars hold a powerful allure for people because they’re symbolic of American freedom, and sadly, at this point in time, they have also come to represent something else, the threat of climate change.” Simpson’s works embrace all of this and more.
As for their first-ever digital exhibition—which comes complete with a “Keith’s Cars” road trip playlist—Spears says, “We don’t want to lose touch with our audience and community, thus we need to find new online channels for people to engage with us. We need to make the online experience cheerful and dynamic, and continue to make content that tells a vivacious story.” This particular story of cars conveys so much—and like all superior exhibitions, it can be appreciated on an aesthetic and metaphoric level.
Images by Joseph Kramm, courtesy of the artist and Fort Makers