Casual observers could be mistake this object, which is in a parking space in the University of Chicago’s Campus North parking structure, for a representational sculpture of a car. In fact, it’s an actual car: a 1957 Cadillac Sedan De Ville encased in 15 cubic yards of concrete.
Named “Concrete Traffic,” the unique and unusual piece was created by German artist Wolf Vostel (1932–1998) in January 1970 as an “instant happening” and an “event sculpture” at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Vostel was associated with the international art movement Fluxus, with which Yoko Ono (whose 2016 installation “Sky Landing” is located in Jackson Park, few kilometers away) was also affiliated.
It was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (MCA) under its first director, Jan van der Marck. Over the course of several weeks in late December 1969 and into January 1970, local artisans made the molds for the sculpture according to the artist’s instructions. On January 16, 1970 local contractors poured concrete into the molds of the sculpture, in the middle of an active parking lot on Ontario Street at North St. Clair near the original MCA building. Several days later, the molds were removed, revealing a monumental concrete sculpture bearing the contours of the Cadillac embedded within.
Vostell used the word Dé-coll/age to describe his artistic philosophy: he would destroy and reuse familiar objects like televisions or cars, to explore and question modern culture. He often dissolved images from magazine pages with chemicals and created décollages (where the artist cuts away, tears, or removes) from posters and print ad. He used these nontraditional techniques and materials to jar people and grab their attention, believing he could create change “through the disturbance of the familiar.”
With this work, Vostell wanted to prompt people to really think about cars, what they mean, and how they impact us.
Vostell rendered the automobile immobile by filling it and encasing it with concrete, a material that dominates the urban landscape. So the concrete “mummified” the car, simultaneously preserving and transforming the car from a functional mode of transportation into a mausoleum, asking passersby to pause and reflect on cars, concrete, and the way we live.
After about six months on display at the MCA, the artwork was moved to an outdoor location in the Hyde Park neighborhood at 60th and Ingleside, where it remained for about forty years. Eventually, Chicago winters began to take their toll on the piece, and in 2016 it was moved to its current location inside the parking structure.
If you crouch down, you can see the original whitewall tires, hubcaps, and underbody of the vintage vehicle!