Art Car Museum – Houston, Texas - Atlas Obscura
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Houston, Texas

Art Car Museum

At the "Garage Mahal" in Houston, car culture is about more than just driving. 

Some people wash and wax their cars, making sure that the finish is exactly as clean and shiny as the day they bought the car. The art car movement goes in entirely the other direction.

While those who create art cars are still concerned with how their car looks, they approach the car itself as a blank canvas on which to create a masterpiece. Armed with paint, glue, objects, and whatever else will stay stuck on a car that still needs to drive, the creators go to work.

Often the folks that do this are not trained artists but normal people who still drive their creations (usually done on older or used cars, but not always) to work every day. Among the art car creations is a favorite style where many objects of one particular type have been glued on covering the entirety of the car’s exterior, such as cameras, corks, CDs, trophies and so on.

In Houston this art car culture is a deep-rooted part of the city. Growing out of a long Houston tradition of outsider art, in 1986 eleven art cars were exhibited alongside the Fruitmobile (the first of the Houston art cars, made to be auctioned) at The Orange Show. By April, 1988, the Houston art car culture was in full swing when the first official art car parade in the U.S. took place there with 40 cars participating; it was seen by over two thousand onlookers.

The Art Car Museum aims to make this art form available for appreciation year-round. It opened in 1988, the same year as the first large-scale parade. Known as the “Garage Mahal,” the museum was founded by artists James and Ann Harithas. Among their collections are non-car-based art by Houston’s art car artists, as well as a “collection of cars, bicycles, motorcycles, roller-skates, and many other types of motorized and human-powered vehicles all decorated in various themes.” Among the best cars in the museum are Rex Rabbit, a giant rabbit-shaped car clutching a basket of eggs; Faith, by David Best, complete with water-buffalo head in place of longhorns; and the giant roach-shaped “Roachster.”

The art car parade in Houston is still the largest art car parade in the world.