in this paper I intend to introduce to the reader, the aims and objectives which will hopefully set the foundations to the arguments which will be raised in, the cultural biography of the Volkswagen. I shall be predominantly observing the Volkswagen beetle in my research, although, parallels will be drawn by also including the Volkswagen combi which I believe will help demonstrate and strengthen my overall approach. We need to understand that the beetle is primarily an object which has been produced for a specific function to be consumed as a commodity and therefore has an exchange value associated with it, albeit on a varying scale depending on its cultural status at the time. The meaning of this consumer item will be looked at in depth and about the place this thing and its meanings have within society.
This is an interesting aspect as the beetles cultural status and exchange value have fluctuated along its historical timeline. The question of meaning raises numerous questions which will be largely presented through a discussion of semiotics about the relations between needs and objects, nature and culture, meaning and social usage. In producing a biography of a thing, ie. the Volkswagen beetle combi we need to approach it in a way similar to that of composing a biography of a person. We need to ask questions such as, where does the thing come from and who made it What has been its career so far, and what do people consider to be an ideal career for such a thing What are the recognized "ages or periods in the things "life ", and what are the cultural markers for them How does the things use change with its age, and what happens to it when it reaches the end of its usefulness. Today the beetle, for most people has lost its status as a purely function object and has changed into an object full of signs and myths that allude to a way of life giving the vehicle a certain status within society.
We shall be looking at questions such as who and why would somebody buy a Volkswagen and what it says about them. And we shall be raising issues like form over function and when this becomes apparent. when we look in a historical context of where the beetle came from it is interesting to note that it came from Hitlers idea of producing a vehicle for the masses. Volkswagen when translated, becomes "folks wagon" or peoples car and it is significant that a car that was designed for the masses to unify and subordinate them into conformity would later on become an expression of individuality and a symbol of freedom and rebellion. Hitler wanted to bring to the German people the same freedom of mobility enjoyed by Henry Ford's millions of American car owners: hence the term volkswagen or people's car. The first production model in 1937 was powered by an air-cooled engine with the characteristic aerodynamically efficient beetle shape which added to the little car's 40 miles per gallon fuel economy.
After WWII production resumed and the first beetles reached the U. S. and europe in 1949. By the mid 1990's over 22 million of the original design had been produced. The car was affordable transportation for the masses.
With its original purchase price of $200 the VW was, like Ford's Model-T, quite literally "the People's car." What made it inexpensive to produce was its obvious small size. What made it also inexpensive to maintain was the high mileage, air-cooled engine. The conventional water cooled engine requires the additional weight, expense and maintenance of pump, hoses and radiator. With minimal changes over the years in body shape or internal structure, the car was endlessly repairable since parts remained more or less the same, and VW could therefore capitalize on the long life of its production tooling.
In a sense the VW was a modernist statement which rejected any frills or decoration that might be superfluous to the car's basic function. It demonstrated good workmanship throughout. The basic reliable and easy to maintain engine was purely functional as was the total design of the car. Even six foot tall drivers found plenty of head room in the tiny interior. Beetle Social Factors.
By rejecting the American ethos of both the planned obsolescence through annual model changes and also the excesses of conspicuous consumption, the homely bug came to represent a 60's counter culture. It was indeed the "people's car" by providing on an international scale affordable transportation for low income earners. Moreover, the bug was practical in its simplicity, small size, and durability which endeared it to its loving public. Interestingly Volkswagen's advertising was one of the first instances of a major corporation setting out to market a technology on the basis of its social virtues. By informing the public of its environmental green-ness ie small efficient engine equals less fuel intake, Volkswagen was already one step ahead of its competitors during the mid 70 s oil crisis. It became the antithesis of the big, flashy American car.
This little economic car was the best-selling car in automotive history. A truly international phenomenon, the German Volkswagen's efficiency, ease of driving, and simple design provided millions with basic, cheap, and reliable transportation. It's easily recognizable shape dotted the landscape from New York to Paris to Berlin and beyond, and became an icon for a generation in the 1960 s and 1970 s. when you choose to purchase a Volkswagen you are immediately making a statement about yourself and the lifestyle you aspire towards.
Choice also reflects values. The person who drives a tomato red 1971 Volkswagen until rust leaves nothing for the floorboards to cling to is making a statement about how she wants to spend her money and what she cares about. We say, That dress isnt me or Im not a cat person. In choosing, you indicate what matters to you and how you perceive yourself. Looking at it from barthes perspective, we could say that, we are not just purchasing the aspirational lifestyle but we are buying into the myth. This myth has constantly changed along the Volkswagen historical timeline.
To the German public in 1939, the Volkswagen represented and reflected the Nazi ideals of conformity and equality and the myth was that this car could unify the people through mass production at an economical price. yet, today we can see that the beetle is a personal statement purporting the myth that the car is a signifier of freedom and individuality. We need to investigate what this signifier means and how and why the meaning can change. It will be interesting to discover why people today continue to buy used Volkswagen and why is there such a devoted following. Today the beetle, when we compare it to other vehicles, lacks even basic comforts such as heating, gives very poor crash protection, is uneconomical to run and maintain yet is loved and cherished by millions of owners worldwide.
We shall look at surveys of Volkswagen owners to decide what it is about the car that makes it so unique. Why is the Volkswagen considered to be fun, practical, reliable and full of charm and character How does this myth become established Do people by the car so as to obtain a certain lifestyle So that they can be perceived as being fun, quirky and individual and how it has come to attain a cult- like status whereby the meaning or sign of the car has been superseded by its own myth. Finally, I shall be concluding the cultural biography of Volkswagen, with a personal reference, detailing my own experiences with a Volkswagen combi traveling 25, 000 miles around Australia living in the vehicle over a one year period. What My perceived expectations were and how they changed the longer the relationship between myself and the vehicle lasted. I shall be describing how the vehicle can obtain a character either through innate design or personal interactions and its own in-built idiosyncratic attributes. Was a vehicle part of the lifestyle or was the lifestyle part of the vehicle Bibliography ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY 1) A history of modern art; painting-sculpture-architecture-photography.
Author: H. H. Ar nason - Marla F. Prather Publisher: Thames and Hudson 1998 Chapter 21, Page 508: Pop art and Europe New Realism It explores the increasing use of everyday objects and images from the popular culture into art in the 1960 s with the birth of Pop art, Happenings, environments, assemblages and Nouveau realism, that emerged simultaneously in the USA and European countries. Particularly Pop art in Britain with the work of Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and David Hockney.
The Neo-Dada and Pop art in the United States in the work of Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Jones, Allan Kap row, Red Grooms, George Segal, Claes Oldenburg etc. 2) Modern Art; Impressionism to Post-Modernism Publisher: Thames and Hudson 1989 Chapter 7, Page 305: Pop The vitally important idea that artists must deal withe the contemporary world and with life as well as with art is the basis of Pop art. Pop art looks on to the 20 th century world and particularly no to New York and London where it was born. It is rooted in an urban environment and looks at aspects of that urban environment that werent previously considered apt for use in art.
This chapter deals with Pop art looking at it in a geographical approach first looking at New York, from the early 1900 s and Marcel Duchamps ready-mades influence through Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns to Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselman, etc. to the USA West coast and the influence of Hollywood and other west coast phenomena. The development of Pop art in London with the work of Paolozzi, Bacon and finally of its Pops counterparts in continental Europe. 3) Pop art; A critical history Publisher: University of California Press 1997 Its a collection of articles and essays by established artists, critics and writers on the subject of Pop art and its emergence and establishment as one of the major forces in modern art. It includes the essay by Roland Barthes, That old thing, art...
which I used for my critical analysis in the present paper. 4) Pollock and after: the critical debate Publisher: Paul Chapman Publishing ltd A collection of articles and essays mainly from the 1970 s and 80 s that constitute a debate about modernist history. 5) Pop art Author: Tim Oster wold Publisher: Taschen 1991 Revisits the history of Pop art, its themes, sources and styles. Investigates the events that led to its birth from the break-up of the perfect 50 s American dream to the entry of popular and trivial subject matter into high art. Offers in-depth biographies of its main components. 6) Reconsidering the object of art: 1965-1975 Author: Anne Goldstein and Anne Rorimer The Museum of contemporary art, Los Angeles Publisher: The MIT press 1995 Page 247, essay: Marks of indifference, Aspects of photography in, or as, conceptual art by Jeff Wall.
In the authors own words: This essay is a sketch, an attempt to study the ways that photography occupied conceptual artists, the ways that photography realised itself as a modernist art in the experiments of the 1960 s and 1970 s. 7) The American century; Art and culture 1950-2000 Author: Lisa Phillips Whitney Museum of american art Publisher: W. W. Norton & company NY-London 1999 This volume focuses on the American Avant-garde movement starting from the invention of Abstract Expressionism which put America, particularly New York, at the fore front of art. Chronicles American art from the second half of the 20 th century focusing on movements such as Abstract Expressionism and detailing the various shifts in dominance through to minimalism and Pop art, emphasising the cultural climate of the time and concluding with and exploration of Post-Modernism and the main challenges to popular art such as conceptual art and earthworks. 8) Robert Rauschenberg; a retrospective Author: Walter Hopes and Susan Davidson New York Guggenheim Museum exhibition Publisher: Guggenheim Museum Publications 1997 Explores the artists oeuvre on occasion of a retrospective show of his work at the Guggenheim Museum NY.
Gives an insight into the artists life and work, his motivation, inspiration and legacy. Rauschenberg has created art in a range of mediums, materials and techniques probably wider and more varied than any other artist this century, spanning from painting, sculpture, drawings, printing and photography to dance and performance. 9) Art of the 20 th century vol II Author: Ruhr berg - Schneckenberger - Fricke - Hon nef Publisher: Taschen 1998 Chapter 9, page 509: The ubiquitous ready-made It talks about the fact that objects, wether Duchamps ready-mades or Pop arts junk, represented their culture and what influence had Duchamp on the 1960 s art scene. 10) Andy Warhol Author: Carter Ratcliff Publisher: Abbeville press. NY A comprehensive survey of Andy Warhols career addressing key issues such as Warhols obsession with stardom, his innovative use of images from everyday life etc. 11) Modernism history; a study in 20 th century art and ideas Author: Bernard Smith Publisher: Yale university press 1998 The author argues that Modernism deserves recognition as a period style.
Smith renames this period Formalesque as it is no longer modern having emerged sometime between 1890 and the first world war, was institutionalised between wars and flourished anew between 1945 and 1960. Identifying the formalesque period makes it also possible to identity its adversaries: Dada, Surrealism and Neue Sachlichkeit which constituted the formative elements of Post-Modernism. 12) Modern art in the common culture Author: Thomas Crown Publisher: Yale University press 1996 Investigates the strong links between advanced art and modern mass culture, focusing on the continual interdependence between the two phenomena. 13) A taste for Pop; Pop art gender and consumer culture Author: Cecile Whiting Publisher: Cambridge University press 1997 The author analyses Pop art and the criticism it generated. presents case studies that focus on works by four artists - Tom Wesselman, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Marisol Escobar- who are closely associated with Pop art, and focuses on gender issues. 14) Article.
Is painting dead Author: Edward Lucie-Smith Magazine: Art Review, July/August 1997 Questions wether painting is still a valid means of artistic expression or wether it has become a conservative occupation. From the french tradition of painting as a vehicle for moral ideas to the tendency of the early Modernist movement to remove moral and social content and concentrate on formal values. It also explores other possibilities as Duchamps invention of the ready-made which challenged the whole basis of the painters activity and the fact that painting and drawing are no longer the only way of making and circulating images, this role having been taken by photography and the incorporation of photography into art itself, particularly in American art. 15) Article. This is now: Becoming Robert Rauschenberg Author: Dave Hickey Magazine: Artforum, Sept 1997 In occasion of Robert Rauschenbergs 1997 retrospective at the NY Guggenheim Museum, Dave Hickey tries to imagine the 50 s and 60 s without Rauschenberg. 16) Article, Rauschenberg: Frederick Castle asks wether Robert Rauschenberg is Americas greatest artist of all time.
Author: Frederick Castle Magazine: Art Monthly, Nov 1997 A retrospective on Rauschenbergs 1997 retrospective at the NY Guggenheim Museum.