Salvatore Scarpitta’s Traveler exhibition opened at the Hirshhorn last Thursday; it will be up until January 11, 2015. The exhibition is a mix of cars, fabric wrapped canvases, and sleds made out of found materials. Seeing cars in a gallery is usually impressive and always fun. Because I had seen photographs of the cars and read about Scarpitta’s obsession with racing I was looking forward to seeing them but I wasn’t prepared for seeing the sleds. Made from material he found on the street the sleds lack the color of the cars, instead they consist of a charcoal and dull gray color palette. In comparison to the cars they look somber and recall the practical and mythic uses that sleds, snowshoes, and skis embody. Sleds can be used for practical reasons instead of the shiny cars that reflect a daring death defying past time, not related to necessity.
Jeff MacGregor writing for the Smithsonian.com states, “The sleds began in the 1970s, made of whatever he gathered from the New York sidewalks. Odds and ends bound tight with gut and rawhide, they were wrapped like mummies. As primitive as they are bleak, the sleds are about what we all carry, what we all drag through life. Each as hopeless as a lost expedition.”
Born in New York City and raised in Hollywood, Scarpitta moved to Italy in 1936. During World War II he experienced living in an internment camp and after escaping lived in hiding in the Apennines Mountains. He also became a member of the Allied sub-commission for Monuments and Archives in Italy (see the Monuments Men website). He didn’t return to the States until the late 1950s when he joined Leo Castelli’s gallery and began spending a lot of his time at drag car races. It’s an incredible life and the show at the Hirshhorn does well to give you a taste and introduction to his work. I left the show very curious about the artist and I’m hoping to read and learn more about his life and art in the future.