PRINT September 1998



It’s hard to imagine anything that wouldn’t be grist for Jason Rhoades’ artistic mill. At times he seems to want to swallow the world of things in a single gulp, the way you might an oyster on the half shell. At the Nürnberg Kunsthalle, the LA-based artist has mounted his hungriest show to date, “The Purple Penis and the Venus (Installed in the Seven Stomachs of Nürnberg). As Part of The Creation Myth.” Treating the institution’s seven rooms as a mammoth digestive system, he’s arranged his earlier works in a drama of cosmic bulimia.

When I met up with with Rhoades this summer to discuss his work (and enjoy one of Nuremberg’s legendary bratwursts), we decided to concentrate on his most recent car project, the “Impala (International Museum Project About Leaving and Arriving).” A museum-on-wheels criss-crossing Europe, taking other artists’ works along for the ride, it was parked outside the Kunsthaus Zürich during the month of June, a piece by Sylvie Fleury in the glove compartment and a reconstruction of a work by the late Dieter Roth in the trunk. Equally visible on both sides of the Atlantic—his work was included in the last two Whitney Biennials and has been seen frequently in Europe—Rhoades remains, in my mind, perhaps the most American of contemporary American artists. With the Impala project, he offers us Old World denizens nothing less than a brand-new American “Super Space.”

Daniel Birnbaum


I’m not really a car person. They’re interesting tools. They’re sometimes great facilities, great pieces of architecture, but I’m not a fanatic about it. Actually, I kind of like it when they break down. A lot of my work is about this fucked-up perpetual-motion machine that seems to run on its own.

The Impala’s part of a long lineage, both in my own experience and in art history. Primarily, it relates to Picabia—he supposedly owned about 160 cars. What’s interesting to me are the dynamics between his work as an artist and his passions—be it women, cars, or ships. The car captures the modernist idea of going forward, faster and faster. It’s the pure modernist dream of acceleration. It wasn’t until one realized that it was going too fast that the breaks were invented. That, I guess, is postmodernism. Anyhow, in LA we have these completely fucked-up distances. I spend hours going to my studio, so I established this extension of my studio, or rather this second space, in my Caprice.

I think the greatest difference between how people perceive LA and Europe has to do with how one approaches and how one leaves something. In LA you find a place to park, then you pull in and leave your car. Everything after that is dependent on this experience. In Europe it’s a whole different thing, with trains and buses. Since I spend so much time here and like driving so much, I decided to bring the Impala over and create a kind of in-between space, a little like the way my Caprice functions between my studio and the shops in LA. So I’ve established this in-between museum in a car. It’s called “Impala SS”—“International Museum Project About Leaving and Arriving.” The SS, which stood for Super Sport, I interpret as the Super Space.

What I want is this big American space. Something comfortable and elegant. And now this space exists in-between these pathetic European Kunsthalles that seem completely outdated. These old European art institutions just aren’t meant for artists who work today. If you need something mechanical, like screws, they won’t have what you need. I wanted this truly progressive space that moves forward. So I shipped this car over.

The Impala will probably stay here in Europe; it’ll run with California plates for two years. It’ll probably eventually find its place as a sculpture—that’s what happened to the Caprice. By going between places, it will generate things. It’ll snowball, take on a mythology and a history, and then at some point it’ll just stop. And that’ll be it, it’ll be a finished sculpture. The project just started, though, so maybe it’s not that easy to say. For the first exhibition I remade this piece Dieter Roth did in LA in ’70, these suitcases full of cheese that melted into the floor of the gallery. I also asked Sylvie Fleury for something for the glove box. I met Dieter at the opening and talked about the myth of this piece he did in LA and he said he didn’t think anybody had seen it or understood it.

The Caprice for me is a bit of a mistress. You go out with it into the night to be alone, and you listen to the radio. You have a relationship with it, you have a date. I like that the Caprice smells feminine; it’s sexy. So I’m really happy with Sylvie’s piece for the Impala. I told her I was going to have Dieter in the back and invited her to do something in the glove compartment. She said: “You must have Chanel 22, the only American Chanel perfume.” So we put Sylvie’s perfumes in place and had this amazing sushi dinner with sake. And I have this great LA radio station, Power 106, that I put on CD, so I turned on the air conditioning and listened to this heavy bass, and had a great time.

Technically speaking, the Impala is Hauser & Wirth No 3, and I’m the museum director. Museum director, curator, collector, artist—none of that means anything anymore. I won’t turn all the exhibitions in the Impala into artworks, but I’ll certainly do something about Dieter’s cheese, Sylvie’s perfume, and the air conditioner. I had heard that Dieter loved air conditioning. When he was installing his last show, he was threatening to sue the gallery. He would go: “I want air conditioning, I want air conditioning.”

Important for understanding the inbetweenness of the Impala project is to grasp the concept of “taint” It’s slang and means “It ain’t.” It describes the part of the body between the pussy or the balls and the asshole. It’s this in— between thing, just like my museum. The “tain’t” is the philosophical bridge, the concept that drives the Impala forward. It’s a progressive space, always on its way somewhere else. Maybe all the pieces shown in the car will constitute the “tain’t” collection. I met Lars Nittve of the new Tate Gallery and told him the story, and he said he should borrow some pieces from my collection to show the “tain’t” at the Tate. I’m all for it.

Parking next to a hairy spot—or rather a Harry spot—is what I’m after. There’s this spot outside the Kunsthalle in Zurich where only Harry Szeemann is allowed to park, and I’ve put the Impala right next to it, so that Harry can park his old Saab next to me. So now it stands outside the Kunsthalle, next to the Calder, the Rodin, and the Henry Moore.