There’s been an accident.
That’s what may enter your mind when you step through the front gate at Kayne Griffin Corcoran in Los Angeles and see a car lodged nose first in the gallery’s garden. Beyond that, indoors, lie pieces of a motorcycle that appears to have disintegrated mid-cruise.
This, however, is no accident.
The car is a Dodge Charger. Bright orange. Emblazoned with a Confederate battle flag on the roof and the words “General Lee” just over the windows — a facsimile of the 1969 souped-up ride that roared through seven seasons of CBS’ “The Dukes of Hazzard” during the early 1980s. The dismembered motorcycle is a chopper, just like the famous “Captain America” driven by Peter Fonda in the 1969 counterculture flick “Easy Rider.” A star-spangled helmet lies face-down nearby.
These cinematic collisions at the Mid-Wilshire gallery Kayne Griffin Corcoran are part of artist Hank Willis Thomas’ first solo gallery show in Los Angeles in more than a decade.
For Thomas, 43, these vehicular icons are more than just pop culture lore. As a kid growing up in New York, “The Dukes of Hazzard” was his favorite show; the General Lee a coveted toy. “I had the car and I had the Bo and Luke action figures,” he says as he surveys the towering Charger. “Me and my friends — African Americans — we’d play ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ ... My grandmother watched it with me. My mother watched it with me. There was never any mention or suggestion that there was a problem with the context or the Confederate flag.” This anecdote tells a profound story — about how a symbol associated with the battle to maintain a slave-holding state, one deployed during the height of Jim Crow as a tool of intimidation, could be re-insinuated into the culture, often denuded of its original intent. And how Hollywood, in some cases, was happy to do the denuding. “The Dukes of Hazzard” was a comedy about a pair of good ol’ boys engaging a comically inept sheriff and his droopy-eyed dog in spectacular car chases ...
...in a vehicle named for a Confederate general.