August 24, 2007

Elaine Kaufmann's Minivan

It's kind of wild to think that the first generation of adults to grow up in minivans are walking the streets right now. Actually, the first generation of Americans conceived in minivans just graduated from college. Let's do the math:

Nov. 1983: Dodge Caravan hits the road
Nov. 1983: Mom&Dad hit it in the back seat.
Aug. 1984: Zachs & Brittanys start popping up like mushrooms on a shady lawn.
Sept. 1989: Though they just make the cutoff for kindergarten, parents hold the kids back a year to improve their chances for the Ivies.
Sept. 1990: Gifted & Talented K-12 march begins.
Sept. 2003: Oberlin welcomes the Class of '07.


We live in historic times. Which makes Brooklyn artist Elaine Kaufmann's project, Minivan, all the more resonant with the voice of this, The Voyager Generation, who have come up never knowing the inconvenience of an unheld cup or rear-facing third seat-induced nausea:

Minivan is an artist's book that imagines these vehicles (and their drivers) as hip and adventurous. Black and white photographs of fourteen different models of minivans are each accompanied by a haiku that celebrates their design and cultural import.
Good stuff. There are several photos, but not, alas, haiku, on Kaufmann's site. And a nice discussion of her work on Paddy Johnson's blog, Art Fag City.

Minivan, 2006 [ via artfagcity]


Just to set the record straight, the first generation of kids conceived in minivans in the USA were created in the 1960s (1950s for the really progressive sorts), said procreation having occurred in VW Microbuses.

Lee Iococca did NOT invent the minivan, no matter how much he wants you to believe it. He just stole the concept.

Full disclosure: I drove VW microbuses illicitly as a small child, but my own kid (entered Oberlin 2002, graduated 2006) was not conceived in one, and never rode in an American minivan. Make of that what you will.

[you Boomers, always trying to take credit for everything ;) Q: were microbuses cool at the time, or lame like minivans have always been? -ed.]

Microbuses have always been cool, the way clever engineering and great ideas are cool.

If you mean "were they suburban cool"? well, no. Parents generally drove Detroit iron, often with fake wood on the sides.

But I don't think anyone thought microbuses were lame at the time -- "lame" is kind of what Iococca invented. If people in general thought about microbuses at all, it was probably along the lines of 'weird, foreign, irrelevant, maybe suspect'. Kind of like Renaults. Or Saabs.

Driving a microbus was definitely a statement, deliberate or not, that you thought for yourself. Neighbors didn't rush out to get one. Not, at least, when they could drive a Ford Fairlane instead. Or that epitome of suburban class, the Buick Roadmaster.

I'm biased, of course. We kept microbuses as pets, along with one of the first Beetles imported into the US.

[got it. hippies. I love'em, but I think for these artistic and sociological purposes, lameness is an integral aspect of the definition of "minivan". -ed.]

Hippies? No way -- not in this case! The prime mover behind our collection was a rabid (and wrong-headed) Republican with (obviously) a twisted imagination. No hippies in this crowd -- just major eccentrics. Sheesh.

Total accord here on lameness. Not so much on loving minivans.

[no love per se for the minivans, either, of course, just marking time. and watching their artistic appropriation by the youts with interest. -ed.]

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