Maimed in Mexico is one of the quietest exhibits at the Andy Warhol Museum.
The bunny ears and occasional nipples in the Playboy gallery upstairs tend to be better conversation starters among museum visitors. And the exhibit down the hall, where glossy helium balloon pillows soar and sink over giggling patrons, that’s a noisy room too.
But the visitors peering at the black and white photographs of car accidents in Maimed in Mexico are silent, or barely whispering.
“Never really thought of car accidents as artwork before,” whispers Jim Jordan, 25, as he leans in squinting at a picture of a toppled truck on the side of the road.
When Jordan was himself a victim of a freak car accident five years ago, it didn’t feel like artwork. When the collision sent him flying out of the sunroof, breaking his back in five places and collapsing his lungs, it didn’t feel like artwork.
Why, of all people, would Jim Jordan want to look at pictures of car accidents?
Why would anybody?
The tragedy and voyeurism of car crashes is the focus of Maimed in Mexico, a photography exhibit featuring the work of Mexican photojournalist Enrique Metinides, at the Andy Warhol Museum through April 18. Maimed in Mexico is a part of the Warhol’s larger “Death and Destruction” series, which features artwork from various artists depicting different aspects of the macabre.
The exhibit is well-timed. The economic recession of the past two years has left the auto-industry’s future in question. General Motors needs a bailout. Toyota recalls more than 2 million vehicles for their defective gas pedals. Chrysler airs commercials urging Americans to “drive Detroit again.” An increasingly green economy is forcing the industry to re-think its business plans. Americans are fed up with the automobile industry.
As these aggravations mount, it seems more relevant than ever to look at photographs that show automobiles at their worst.
“We deeply love them, but cars always promise much more than they can deliver, leading us to hate them as well,” says John Gartman, author of “Auto Opium.” “So we take out our frustrations on them.”
Maimed in Mexico is an outlet for these frustrations.
Metinides, who photographed his first corpse at the age of 12, is credited with pioneering “nota roja,” or bloody news. His 28 photographs on display in the exhibit were taken from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, ranging from explosive gas tanks to mundane fender benders. Most of them focus on the cars themselves, not the people who drove and crashed them. The human aspect, if included at all, is secondary.