Gummy Bear Art Car Takes Grand Tour

gummy bear car in New York
Courtesy of Alex Leuchte

Sometimes an “only in New York” moment has a more global story. On a rainy afternoon this week in Manhattan, my friend visiting from Germany was excited to spot a Mercedes with Munich plates. The car had a distinctive pattern covering its exterior, we debated whether it was metal, fabric or beads, but the actual decoration is much sweeter: gummy bears.

The back window detailed the “grand tour” of this visionary art, starting in Munich, traveling to Paris and London, and finally New York. The project is the third installment of artist Guenther Siraky‘s Mercedes Trilogy, which also took him and the car through Europe in 2007. The plan was to take the gummy bear car to each of the city’s major art museums, including the Louvre, Tate and Guggenheim, exhibiting the work of art in front of each museum. Over a million people have seen the car, and reactions range from disbelief and amazement to tears of joy. NYPD officers have even allowed him to park in forbidden places to display his work. While the car should be covered in rain and extreme heat, the slightly melted gummy bears just add to the vehicle’s charm. Siraky intended to sell the vehicle once he completed his tour last month, but he has extended his time in New York, and can be found driving it all over the five boroughs through the end of September.

See a slideshow of the gummy bear car in NYC below, and check in with the art car’s adventures through the artist’s Facebook page.

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What Is Art? I Don’t Know And Neither Does Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst
One of the perks of being a travel writer is you get to go to press viewings for upcoming exhibitions. While you don’t beat the crowds (hordes of journalists and hangers-on attend these things) you do get to see some great art for free. And if a show is disappointing, at least you didn’t have to pay for it.

I just went to the press viewing at the Tate Modern in London for “Damien Hirst,” a retrospective for one of Britain’s most famous contemporary artists. Hirst became hugely famous and wealthy in the 1990s as a leading figure in the Britart movement. His displays of preserved animals, dead flies, rows of pills and other studies of life and death polarized the artistic community. Critics either loved or hated his work and it became the center of that perennial and unanswerable question: “What is art?”

I have no idea what art is. I’ve heard lots of definitions, usually pontificated at me by some self-styled expert, and none of them have proved terribly convincing. For me, art is a visceral feeling, a reaction that I can’t entirely explain. To paraphrase the old line about pornography: I don’t know what art is, but I know it when I see it.

Sometimes.

Take one of Hirst’s most famous pieces, pictured above. This preserved shark is titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.” Is this art? To me it isn’t, since it didn’t give me any sort of gut reaction or make me see the world in a different way. If this is art, then every natural history museum is filled with art. And perhaps they are.

Damien Hirst
This one is called “Mother and Child Divided” and features a cow and calf cut in half. You can walk between the cases and see their insides. This was mildly interesting from a biological point of view, yet once again it felt more like natural history than art, until I saw how the journalists reacted to it. One photographer had brought his daughter along. The girl, about six years old, walked between the cases looking at the calf’s insides. She had that inscrutable expression children sometimes get when they react to something new.

I was wondering what was going on inside her head when a female photographer went up to her father and asked if she could take photos of the girl. The dad said yes and the photographer pulled out her camera. The girl immediately became stiff and put on her “smiling for a family photo” look.

“No, don’t look at me, look at the calf like you don’t know what to think of it,” the woman instructed. “Good! Now give me a cheeky grin.”

Snap snap snap, and the media had created their own reality.

The girl’s father was more ethical. He took a photo of me walking through the cow. I only realized what he was doing when the shutter clicked, so whatever expression I had on my face was the real one.

Is “Mother and Child Divided” art? Yeah, probably. While the piece itself didn’t teach me anything, the audience reaction sure did.

Damien Hirst
I bet that kid liked this next one. It’s called “Beautiful, childish, expressive, tasteless, not art, over simplistic, throw away, kid’s stuff, lacking integrity, rotating, nothing but visual candy, celebrating, inarguably beautiful painting (for over the sofa).”

This is one of Hirst’s Spin Paintings, made by splashing paint on a rotating canvas. It’s something I did in grade school and something Hirst has done a lot. Well, actually his assistants do most of them. Art? Maybe, but not Hirst’s art. In fact many of Hirst’s paintings, including most of his famous Spot Paintings, consisting of rows of colored dots, are done by his assistants and are only “Hirst paintings” because they come from his studio.

Damien HirstThis one I found quite beautiful. It’s called “For the Love of God” and is a platinum cast of an eighteenth century human skull covered by 8,601 diamonds. The teeth are from the original skull. It’s on display for free in a darkened exhibit space in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Room. The spotlights make it glitter in every color of the rainbow. So is this death bling really art? Hell, yeah! Turning mortality into something beautiful, gaudy, and a wee bit obscene brings up all sorts of issues, and if you don’t want to think about them you can at least enjoy beauty for beauty’s sake.

A popular piece with the crowd was “A Thousand Years,” another study of life and death. A glass vitrine holds a white box in which maggots hatch, develop into flies and feed on a cow’s head and a pool of blood. Right above the head is an Insect-o-cutor that attracts some of the flies, who get zapped and fall into a writhing pile of their dead and dying brethren. Others survive to make more maggots. The whole cycle of life and death is contained in one view.

It reminded me of the day my son was born. When my wife went into labor at the hospital the nurses wheeled her away on a gurney, leaving me to pace in the hallway until they prepped the birthing room and summoned me to “assist” with the birth. Moments after they disappeared down the hallway, another group of nurses came into view wheeling another gurney. On it lay a decrepit old man obviously in the last hours of his life.

Whoa. Ummm. . .whoa.

If Hirst’s “A Thousand Years” is art, then so was that scene in the hallway. This is the impression I got again and again from this exhibition. Hirst isn’t teaching anything you can’t learn simply by walking through life with your eyes open, and anyone who has to pay £14 ($22) to learn these lessons in an art museum probably won’t come away any wiser, so what good is this stuff?

You still might want to check this out. The retrospective is huge with dozens of works that I didn’t cover here. Some are beautiful (a stained glass window made of butterfly wings), some fall flat (a row of brightly painted cooking pans) and most leave you wondering just what the hell art is and if anybody really knows. I’m pretty sure Damien Hirst is as much in the dark about that question as I am.

“Damien Hirst” runs from April 4 to September 9, 2012.

All images © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates, except “Mother and Child Divided” 2007, Photographed by Tate.

Santa crawl around the world: Ho! Ho! Ho! from Gadling to you

Last Saturday night, Times Square was literally a Santa free for all. I first noticed the Santa madness as I approached from the direction of the Empire State Building while walking along Broadway. Along the way, a group of five Santas passed me. Then another group of Santas strolled by. Then there was a lone Santa and a Santa with Mrs. Claus. There were also elves.

By the time I reached 42nd Street, I wondered if this was some Improv Everywhere stunt. Nope. This was the annual Santa pub crawl where people dress like Santa Claus–some better than others, and wander the streets stopping to pop into a bar now and then or indulge a tourist with a photo op.

These hundreds of jolly Santas provided a surprising night of entertainment and an unusual taste of holiday cheer. There’s nothing quite like seeing Santa Claus taking pictures of tourists who are flanked by other Santas. The guy with the fake ear locks dressed up like a Jewish Santa was my favorite version.

Here are 15 more shots of Santa’s around the world–some in surprising places. Each was taken by a traveler who happened by. From Gadling to you, here’s another version of a Santa crawl. Ho! ho! ho! and enjoy.

Just like when there are hundreds of Santa’s, when there’s only one, magic can happen. This Santa’s kiss is being delivered at a Christmas party for kids in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Evidently, Santa has more to do than listen to kid’s Christmas wishes, make presents and deliver them. This Santa, also in South Africa, is feeding the fish at UShaka Marine World in Durban.

The first time I saw Santa en mass was Christmas Eve in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Take this fellow and multiply him over several times. If I had been thinking, I’d have bought a Santa suit for a song for myself.

These Santas gathered en mass at the Tate Modern in London. Even Santa needs a culture fix.

They make Santa kinda young in Bethlehem, Israel. He has pint-sized Santa pals in Vietnam. Santa suits are plentiful in kids sizes there as well.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina this Santa was witness to a travel related scavenger hunt put on by Midnight Soret, that aims to give people an unique way to see the country. The woman with the paper is a contestant who was able to snap, along with her group of fellow travelers, 66 of the 100 required photos.

This Santa and sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) are scaling a building in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Zwarte Piet is a version of Santa’s elves. According to the photo’s description, Zwarte Pete arrives in The Netherlands via steamboat from Spain with the aim to deliver presents to children. This building stunt looks like a swell task option for the Amazing Race.

This Santa Claus in Turkey talked turkey with the photographer about how he is concerned about children who suffer in the world and his job is to make them smile.

These Santas are high fiving in Tokyo, Japan.

Santa in Seattle, Washington at the Northgate Mall does not look like a happy fellow even though he wears the suit like it was made for him. Too many naughty kids? Not enough time off between Christmas Eves?

Sometimes Santa’s tasks wander into hawking Santa goods. This fellow is wandering the streets in Azerbaijan. This mostly Muslim country does have Russian traditions in some parts like celebrating the Russian Christmas on December 6.

This Santa is in Russia where he travels with a bear. I wonder if the station wagon in the background is his ride?

This Santa’s “Ho, ho, ho’s” are being delivered at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. The only thing that looks like the visit with Santa at the light up at the zoo in Columbus, Ohio where my son visits Santa is the guy in the red suit and the tinsel garland.

Even Santa has to do the laundry. These duds are line drying in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wonder which bicycle is Santa’s? Maybe the one with the attached carrying case? Santa needs a place for those presents, you know.

Also taken in Denmark, this photo has that warm, cozy feeling of peace. Something one hopes every Santa around the world is bringing along with him–or her–whichever the case may be.

Photo of the Day (11.1.09)


I’m feeling particularly ethereal today, and Flickr user cmvoekel’s photo at the Tate Modern in London does a good job of capturing my mood. The geometric patterns of light, the shadows and the silhouettes of the people all suggest a scene that looks downright “otherworldly.”

Want your pics considered for Gadling’s Photo of the Day? Submit your best ones here.

£100 million budget shortfall for UK’s greatest attractions

Some of the United Kingdom’s most-visited sights may have to put off or cancel improvements after it has been revealed that they face a £100 million ($164 million) funding shortfall.

The Guardian newspaper reports the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport has promised far more than it can spend in fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11. Department officials failed to explain why they are so bad at math but claim they are looking into the problem. Well, I guess everything will be OK then.

This can’t be good news for the directors and staff at places like the British Museum or Tate Modern, which both planned large expansions, or Stonehenge, which was promised a visitor center, or the British Film Institute, which was supposed to get a whole new building complex. Some of the funding for these projects is coming from other sources, but the department’s portion is a vital part of the planning and now all of these projects will have to be reviewed.

Now that the Empire’s sun has permanently set, the UK needs to realize its two major sources of income are the financial services sector and tourism. Since the financial services people have shown their utter incompetence, the government should be managing its profitable tourist attractions a little more carefully.