Gosh, golly, gee whiz and 23 skidoo, the Albuquerque Museum showcases an American icon that was born in 1926 and died in 1985, only to be resurrected as a national treasure now 90 years old.
Yes, friends, I am referring to “Route 66: Radiance, Rust and Revival on the Mother Road,” an extravaganza of excess Americana, the whole kitsch and caboodle of the western migration, including antique cars, motorcycles, souvenirs, fictitious and real Indian lore and enough neon to placate the most ardent Nikola Tesla fan. Tesla is the inventor of neon signs, alternating current, hydroelectric generation and much more.
The biggest and best neon sign is the “El Vado Auto Court Motel” a rainbow-hued restoration of the original built in the 1950s. There are several other smaller neon signs that emblemize milestones along the historic Route 66 through Albuquerque.
But let us not neglect the meat of the show. This multimedia installation is filled with symbols of the romantic notion of personal freedom to change your circumstances, move away from problems like the Dust Bowl and seek a better life.
Horace Greeley once said, “Go west, young man, go west,” and millions did just that. Men, women and children packed up belongings and took the Mother Road to better their lot or just to have a great adventure.
The television series “Route 66” (1960-64) represented the adventuresome side of Mother Road travels in glorious black-and-white for 116 episodes.
This gobsmacking exhibition is billed as a history show but is so chock-full of fine art, crafts and the narrative created by the vicissitudes of time, weathering and quotidian use, that the show itself is a wonderful work of art. Hats off to exhibition designer Tom Antreasian and his installation crew for an imaginative display of residuals from our most beloved national highway.
“Route 66: Radiance Rust and Revival on the Mother Road” is filled with nooks and crannies that represent such concepts as peregrination, commercial enterprise and cultural concerns from artifacts to zeitgeist.
The whole enchilada includes a rusty but nice circa 1930 Chevy pickup parked in a vintage gas station, a 1940 Harley-Davidson used to collect pueblo pottery, images of cowboy songster Jules Allen, film star Roy Rogers and works by artists including Charles Craig, one-time New Mexico resident Stanley Mouse, Jackson Pollock, Tim Prythero, Bill Tondreau, William Warder and Andy Warhol.
Though the Chevy pickup vignette is full-scale, Prythero’s impeccably wrought miniature “Juanita’s Taco Wagon” tells an even more complex narrative. The bread truck-style body of the fast-food vehicle has all the dings, dents and scrapes of a real-life work truck that regularly squeezes past dumpsters through narrow alleys behind businesses with enough hungry employees to cover the day’s expenses.
The entrepreneurial truck is parked behind a well-patched red-brick wall featuring aging signage and a series of quick fixes. If you can imagine the best scale-model railroad layout you have ever seen, you will be about tenfold behind Prythero’s breathtaking quality of execution and attention to detail.
When Prythero finishes one of his pieces, he adds another poetic chapter to America’s Westward Ho saga. Put your wagons in a circle – they’re a comin’ over the rise!
Contemporary Albuquerque inspires Oscar-winning photographer Tondreau in “Kelly’s Brew Pub, 2012” a stunning multi-image digital print that looks too much like a painting not to be one, but that is Tondreau’s magic.
The show also brims with jewelry, pottery, memorabilia, vernacular and professional photography and trinkets for travelers of every stripe. I don’t recall a rubber tomahawk, but I did see a Western-themed souvenir vest with fringes and an ashtray.
Come on down for the time of your life and pick up a history lesson way more fun than you ever had in school. There are no yawns allowed in this pedal-to-the-rusty-metal spectacular.