Salvatore Scarpitta, Sal Cragar, 1969.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.
Salvatore Scarpitta, the artist whose exhibit just opened at the Hirshhorn, is obsessed with motion. It’s the subject of his art and has been his passion since childhood. He even formed his own racing team and raced small dirt tracks across America. Keep all this in mind when you check out his new exhibit: Traveler.
The exhibit is arranged thematically and it is very interesting to see how Salvatore Scarpitta progresses as an artist. One thing you’ll see immediately is that he incorporated auto parts into his works. Some of these parts were even salvaged from fatal wrecks. This wasn’t some morbid modern art commentary on society though, Scarpitta viewed race cars as extensions of the men who drove them. It was his way of honoring race car drives and allowing some part of them to exist in eternity through his art. Instead of using the car as social commentary, Scarpitta believed it was a window into the true nature of its driver. He explored themes of “risk, movement, death, and rebirth” through these pieces.
What really interested me was a room full of sleds Scarpitta created from random parts he salvaged off the streets. Long before cars we had to have some way of getting around and hauling heavy things. The sled symbolizes a return to the old ways; it was a calming counter-balance to his more energetic car themed works.
Each piece in the exhibit feels like it’s moving in some way whether it’s backwards or forwards in time or from a sense of pace that a certain work conveys. Scarpitta’s incorporation of car parts into his automotive-themed works was a natural extension of his passion for everything related to racing from form and function to speed and motion.