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Virgil de Voldère is proud to present Jerzey THUNDER, its third solo exhibition of work by the New York–based artist Anthony Patti. Exploring the car culture of his native New Jersey, the artist’s recent sculpture and photography soil the purity of the white cube with the grit and sweat of the racetrack. Speed, power, drama, desire, sexuality, toughness—the work embodies a thrilling drag-racing culture to which the artist still belongs.
Patti’s last exhibition at Virgil de Voldère nostalgically idealized life and love on the Jersey Shore’s boardwalks and amusement parks, complete with candy colors, polished fiberglass, and blinking lights. Jerzey THUNDER, though, comes rumbling straight out of the garage—a place where, with his father, he began fixing up cars and boats for racing. Patti later trained as an automotive mechanic before turning to art, earning a BFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2002, but he never abandoned the live-fast, die-young attitude of drag-racing outlaws.
The exhibition’s centerpiece, This Bitch Is Sick, is a metallic blue, fully functioning miniature ’58 Corvette go-kart, complete with a 250cc racing motorcycle engine and a racing suit and helmet, parachute, rear slicks, and gasoline can. Part art installation and part car-show display, This Bitch points in the direction of Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, the local quarter-mile drag strip where Patti drove his muscle cars while growing up. Though the work rests upon a small stand in the gallery, it’s ready to peel out of the gallery and hit the track.
The viewer can imagine the roar of an engine and the putrid smell of exhaust from What Separates the Men From the Boys, a chromed-out aluminum and stainless-steel sculpture handcrafted and modeled from a Pro Modified nitrous-oxide injected big-block Chevy engine and stickered with the artist’s specially made decals. Tricked out to look like it’s ready to rev up and actually produce those sensations, the sculpture radiates adrenaline-fueled power.
At the same time Patti’s work merges lust, speed, and noise, it also demonstrates a nuanced understanding of drag racing, comically playing with stereotypes of masculinity and excess. In Born to Run, a huge polished supercharged engine, exhaust pipes, and chassis are custom made and fitted inside a disproportionately tiny fiberglass model ’41 Willys hot rod, top-coated with a candy copper paint job. Further, two photographs showing competition engines and another capturing a car burning out scoff at the art world’s obsession with both authenticity and the readymade by presenting genuine-looking images that would more likely appear in Hot Rod magazine than on gallery walls.
Yet there’s still the essence of a child who looks up to his dad as a legend or superhero in these works. Patti sees these sculptures as idealistic boy toys with an artistic twist: they’re not that far removed from the days of assembling plastic models, but here he trades in the glue for a welder.