The hot rod and custom car are symbols of America’s love affair with the automobile, and for decades they have provided a creative outlet for those fascinated with the speed, noise and beauty of these machines. Contemporary artists of the past twenty years have embraced hot rods and low riders as well, not just as means of transportation but also as shrines to a way of life, and through various mediums they continue to examine this country’s obsession with the car.

Customized explored the ever-evolving relationship between modern art and popular culture with essays by nine experts in the fields of contemporary art, art criticism and American car culture. Among the thirteen artists included in the exhibition and the book it accompanies, which was organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, were Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Von Dutch, Robert Williams, Richard Prince, Sylvie Fleury, and Rubén Ortiz Torres.

Hot rodding began in the 1940s and 50s as a renegade culture—with rites and customs that have been handed down through the generations. The early do-it-yourself hot rodders individualized cars by stripping down and souping up cheap roadsters. These automobiles were often fenderless, topless, loud, and painted with menacing flames or stripes. From this tradition a group of outsider artists created a medium of their own, with an emphasis on excellence of execution, mechanics and a hard-edged cynical bent. Customized moved beyond the traditional readings of this slice of Americana by connecting it to the international contemporary art world. This exhibition and publication represented both the East and West Coast hot rod scenes, as well as cover the important, predominantly Latino, low rider movement.