Press Release  June 14, 2019

Life Is a Highway: Art and American Car Culture

Christopher Ridgway, © Don Eddy

Don Eddy (American, born 1944), Red Mercedes. Color lithograph, 1972. 24 1/8 x 30 11/16 in. (61.3 x 78 cm). Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), Frederick B. and Kate L. Shoemaker Fund, 1974.36.

TOLEDO, Ohio – The rise of the automobile as a popular visual symbol of American culture will be explored in Life Is a Highway: Art and American Car Culture. The exhibition will feature approximately 125 works of art in a wide variety of media–including painting, sculpture, photography, film, prints and drawings–and a diversity of artists and perspectives, drawn from the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) along with important loans from many other North American institutions. The exhibition will be on view June 15-Sept. 15, 2019, at TMA, the exclusive U.S. venue.

This project is the first U.S. exhibition to provide an inclusive, historical overview of artists inspired by American car culture with an emphasis on the Midwest region. Mapped across four thematic focal points, Life is a Highway brings together a diverse selection of 20th-century artists who chronicle the automobile’s role in reshaping the American landscape and cultural attitudes of self-expression.

Life Is a Highway is curated by Robin Reisenfeld, Ph.D., TMA’s works on paper curator.

© 1969 Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg (American, born Sweden, 1929), Profile Airflow. Cast polyurethane relief over two-color lithograph, 1969. 33 1/4 x 65 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. (84.5 x 166.4 x 9.5 cm). Collection of the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI; Museum purchase.

“Located in one of the nation’s and the Midwest’s leading manufacturing centers, The Toledo Museum of Art is uniquely positioned to organize this groundbreaking look at the impact and iconography of the automobile in American visual culture,” said Brian Kennedy, TMA’s Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey director. “TMA also serves as the arts centerpiece of Toledo’s thriving cultural community, and Life Is A Highway continues the Museum’s sustained commitment to engaging our visitors in new and creative ways through our exhibitions and educational offerings.”

As a key element of the postwar boom economy of the 1950s, the automobile quickly became a symbol of freedom, individualism, renewal and middle-class prosperity. Its mythic status will be examined across social, aesthetic, environmental and industrial dimensions with images that both celebrate and critique its legacy. 

Life is a Highway: Art and American Car Culture will present the multifaceted approaches visual artists have taken towards car culture. Each generation has experienced a changing dynamic with cars, with visual artists uniquely positioned to capture and examine that evolving relationship. Thematic groupings will explore the emergence of car culture, the on-the- road experience, automobility’s imprint upon the environment and its use as a signifier of wealth, status and cultural identity.

© Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Weinstein Hammons Gallery, Minneapolis

Edward Burtynsky (American, born 1955), Oxford Tire Pile #8. Chromogenic color print, 1999. 27 x 34 in. (68.6 x 86.4 cm). Toledo Museum of Art, Purchased with funds given in memory of Larry Thompson by his children and grandchildren, 2018.

“The rich spectrum of artists and media in the exhibition represents the intensity of our experiences with the automobile over time and our evolving relationship to it as a symbol of social change. As an immersive treatment of the visual culture of automobiles, this exhibition ensures there will be something for everyone to discover and enjoy in the galleries,” said Reisenfeld.

Early depictions of automobiles will include works by the American Scene artists and Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers Thomas Hart Benton, Walker Evans, Charles Sheeler, John Sloan and Margaret Bourke-White along with the more familiar Pop and photorealists Robert Bechtle, Jim Dine, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol. Modern and contemporary paintings and installations by John Baeder, Roger Brown, John Chamberlain, Judy Chicago, Kerry James Marshall, George Segal and Richard Prince will be featured, among others. The work of performance artist and automotive designer Liz Cohen will be on view together with photography, early video and works on paper by Edward Burtynsky, Jonathan Calm, Robert Frank, William Gedney, Alfred Leslie, Mary Ellen Mark, Catherine Opie, Gordon Parks, Oscar Fernando Gómez Rodríguez and Meridel Rubenstein, among others.

A uniquely Midwestern perspective
Car culture is an inextricable part of the Midwest’s identity, closely associated with its livelihood, labor and community. A significant portion of Toledo’s economy has been related to the automotive industry since the beginning of the 20th century. It is the home of two production facilities known as the Toledo Complex, an automobile factory that began assembling Willys-Overland vehicles as early as 1910. Since 1940, Jeeps have been assembled in the plant, which is now owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Powertrain Toledo, a General Motors (GM) transmission factory, was founded in 1916 and has been the production site for many of GM’s transmissions.

© Morgan Art Foundation Ltd. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Robert Indiana (American, 1928–2018), South Bend. Color lithograph, 1978. 30 x 27 15/16 in. (76.2 x 71 cm). Toledo Museum of Art, Gift of Art Center, Inc., 1978.63.

Life Is a Highway will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with two essays, one by curator Robin Reisenfeld, Ph.D., and one by guest author Eleanor Heartney.

Related Programs
A broad slate of public programming that will appeal to visitors across generations – art and car enthusiasts alike – will be organized in conjunction with the exhibition.

From June 27-Sept. 15, the Museum will present a film series called Find One in Every Car: On the Road in American Movies on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons that will explore the impact and central role of the car in American culture. On Aug. 23, TMA will turn a parking lot into a drive-in theater to present American Graffiti, celebrating George Lucas’ nostalgic love letter to small town America. And on June 15, July 12, Aug. 24 and Sept. 14, Monroe Street in front of the Museum will be closed for car shows featuring unique vehicles, live music and kid-friendly art making experiences.

On June 20, the Museum will present a Master Series lecture featuring Chip Lord, a media artist who works with video and digital photography. As a member of the alternative architecture and art collective Ant Farm (1968-1978), he produced the video art classics Media Burn and The Eternal Frame as well as the Cadillac Ranch roadside sculpture in Amarillo, Texas. The automobile has been a central element in his work with Ant Farm and as a solo artist. The Masters Series is supported in part by the TMA Ambassadors. 

On June 22 at 2 p.m., Robin Reisenfeld, Ph.D., TMA’s works on paper curator, will give a guided tour of the exhibition.

Life is a Highway: Art and American Car Culture is presented by BP America with additional support from Taylor Cadillac, the Ohio Arts Council and 2019 Exhibition Program Sponsor ProMedica.

The Toledo Museum of Art is a nonprofit arts institution funded through individual donations, foundation grants, corporate sponsorships and investments. The Ohio Arts Council helps fund programs at the Toledo Museum of Art through a sustainability grant program that encourages economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. Glass Pavilion® and Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion® are registered service marks.

Admission to the Museum is free. The Museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m.; and is closed Monday and major holidays. Thursday evening hours are sponsored by Huntington Private Client Group. Friday evening hours are made possible by Fifth Third Bank.

The Museum is located at 2445 Monroe Street at Scottwood Avenue, just west of the downtown business district and one block off I-75 with exit designations posted. For general information, visitors can call 419-255-8000 or 800-644-6862, or visit

Subscribe to our free e-letter!


Latest News

A Look Into Paul Pfeiffer’s Digital Icons At MOCA

Filipino-American artist Paul Pfeiffer has been asking…

The Return of The Portal, Connecting New York And Dublin

Last Monday saw the return of The Portal, a large live-streaming video…

Five Female-Driven Films That Celebrate Women in the Arts

While audiences have always loved a good biopic, finding the…

Christie’s, Sotheby's, and Phillips: Auction Highlights and Record Breaks

Despite the market’s slight lull in comparison to the last few years…