'The Lords & The New Creatures' at Nye+Brown: How Jim Morrison's Poetry Book Inspired an L.A. Art Show About Cars

A lime green Pinto is one of the seen-better-days cars that Rob Reynolds photographed for 32 American Cars
A lime green Pinto is one of the seen-better-days cars that Rob Reynolds photographed for 32 American Cars
Rob Reynolds

"Modern life is a journey by car."

This sentence could have been written yesterday, but it actually appeared in The Lords and the New Creatures, Jim Morrison's first book of published poetry in 1971. Forty years later, little has changed: The car is still king in Los Angeles.

Now, a group show takes on the art of the car -- with a wink to the Lizard King, of course. "The Lords & the New Creatures," which runs in conjunction with Pacific Standard Time, is on view through mid-November at Nye+Brown, Tim Nye and Lexi Brown's new Culver City gallery.

"The show started with a shared interest and curiosity about art making in Los Angeles, and the special status of the car in all of that," said Rob Reynolds, a participating artist who co-organized the show with Nye and Brown. "Taken together, I think the work points to something anxious and interesting about how machines act on the unconscious, and our expectations of total mobility even as we understand how crazy it is."

Sampling three generations of predominantly Los Angeles-based artists, the lords of the show's title include artists such as Peter Alexander, Billy al Bengston, Chris Burden, Judy Chicago, Laddie John Dill, Dennis Hopper and Ed Moses. Juan Capistran, Patrick Lakey, Catherine Opie and Reynolds, among others, represent the new creatures.

Judy Chicago's Bigamy Hood
Judy Chicago's Bigamy Hood
photo courtesy Nye + Brown

Old school versus new school aside, almost all of the artists take on the car in some form. There is Chicago's Bigamy Hood, the hood of a 1965 Corvair covered with symbols in bright yellow, red, pink and blue; Hopper's Double Standard, a black-and-white photograph of a boulevard reflected in a rearview mirror; and Ruscha's minimalist lithograph of the intersection at Melrose and Vine.

If Los Angeles provided the map for the show, each artist chose their own route. For example, Peter Alexander's polyester resin diptych suggests the vanishing point on the horizon while Reynold's photographs of classic cars and old trucks -- a yellow Superbee, a lime green Pinto, a black Electra -- document what he calls "personal monumental sculpture."

Peter Alexander's Diptych (7/20/11)
Peter Alexander's Diptych (7/20/11)
photo courtesy Nye + Brown

To set the scene, well-worn books are displayed with the artwork, such as Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, Ed Ruscha's Twentysix Gasoline Stations and, of course, a copy of Morrison's The Lords and the New Creatures.

"We were thinking about Los Angeles at a particular time in the 60s," Brown explained. "We were thinking about what was happening here, what was popular, what was being read, what people were listening too, what artists were getting into, what the work looked like. It just seemed natural that elements of popular culture at the time were influencing the show."

At the recent opening, the crowd spilled into the alley behind the gallery. Perhaps it was only fitting that at one point, a vintage American car spent several minutes revving its engine and spewing fumes before, finally, rumbling off into the night.

The crowd was left wondering: Performance art or just a ride home?

"The Lords & the New Creatures" is on view through mid-November at Nye+Brown, 2685 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-559-5215 or

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