Full scale paper Mustang

Photo by Laura DeSantis-Olsson

Hosfelt Gallery in New York recently hosted Jonathan Brand’s exhibition “One Piece at a Time.” The undeniable star of the show was the Brooklyn-based artist’s full scale replica of a 1969 Ford Mustang constructed entirely from paper. As the exhibit’s title suggests (it was inspired by the Johnny Cash song of the same name), Brand recreated everything about the iconic American muscle car by hand, “right down to the nuts and bolts, displaying it as the individual collected parts, rather than as a single object.” The papercraft nature gives the installation an almost Americana-kitsch quality that appeals broadly, which is fitting, considering the role of the Ford Mustang in the construction of the modern American myth of muscle and might. However this was also a deeply personal project.

The American automobile has played a large part in Brand’s personal life and his art. His grandfather was a millwright who installed the Detroit assembly lines referred to in Cash’s song. His uncle and cousins are mechanics. He has restored three vintage cars with his father. One of which, a 1969 Mustang, took him five years to rebuild and has been the inspiration for several bodies of work. He sold the Mustang to buy his fiancee a diamond engagement ring in an exchange that inspired one of his previous exhibitions.

I can’t help but view this with a sense of political undertones, especially in our current economic crisis (I’m thinking of Detroit’s auto industry). In 1956 Mao described America as a paper tiger. “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; It is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe that is nothing but a paper tiger.” Is Brand’s paper Mustang a 21st-century artistic derivation of Mao’s critique?