The Cadillac Ranch is a public art exhibit and sculpture using 10 old Cadillac sedans in Amarillo Texas. I love kicking back, with my feet on the dashboard, as the odometer ticks ever higher. There’s a freedom to road trips that is intoxicating but, when I discovered roadside kitsch, I became a complete convert. My first experience with such Americana was on the outskirts of Amarillo, TX. Cadillac Ranch sounds simple enough: ten beaten up Cadillacs are buried nose-down in the middle of a cow field. Spray cans encircle them, as generation upon generation adds their own brand of graffiti.
History of Cadillac Ranch
In 1973, Texas millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 (as he liked to be called) asked an art collective, known as the Ant Farm, to create a sculpture for his ranch. The Ant Farm was a counter-culture, Californian group, which was founded by architects. At the time, they were best known for creating inflatable structures, and for their Inflatocookbook, which directed others how to do the same. After working on Cadillac Ranch, the Ant Farm went on to stage a piece of performance art called Media Burn. This also featured a Cadillac, only this time the vehicle was driven through a wall of blazing television sets.
Visiting Cadillac Ranch
Admittedly, Cadillac Ranch is not quite as dramatic. For this project, the artists gathered Cadillacs, with model years between 1949 and 1963, then drove them or lifted them into holes in the ground.
“The hired backhoe operator was a bit perplexed by the task at hand but he dug… a hole eight feet deep. Then we showed him to use the bucket of his tractor to lift up the car until it slid into the hole. The first car was buried. Stanley arrived with fried chicken, beer, and instructions not to talk to the local press.” Chip Lord (co-founder of the Ant Farm)
The vehicles are symbolic of the golden age of the American automobile and celebrate the rise and fall of the car’s iconic tailfin.
Marsh is as quirky as the sculpture he sponsored. He caused a stir in 1999 when he stole the show during a live broadcast by the Weather Channel, focusing on the snow in Amarillo. Marsh emerged from his car, wearing a Native American headdress and proceeded to perform a snow dance, while his car radio played the Star Wars theme song.
“I saw the camera,” Marsh said. “I just did what people always do when they see a camera and danced around and made a show of it. I performed my Quanah Parker snow dance behind their news broadcast.”
When it comes to Cadillac Ranch, Marsh is a fan of visitor participation and enjoys it when tourists leave their mark. After all, he had the cars painted pink in celebration of his wife’s birthday one year. This is part of what makes roadside kitsch so appealing. Where else are you encouraged to vandalize an art installation?
To reach Cadillac Ranch, take exit 60 off I40. Drive south to Frontage Rd. Turn left then drive east for one mile.
What’s your favorite bit of roadside Americana?