August 18, 2010
Whenever I pass construction sites, I sometimes imagine that some of the heavy, earth-moving machines are mechanical dinosaurs. Big, loud, and powerful, they fit the caricature of dinosaurs as bellowing monsters from my childhood, but the late sculptor Jim Gary actually went a step beyond seeing vehicles as just dinosaur-like. He actually made old vehicles into dinosaurs.
A fellow New Jersey resident, Gary created a variety of artistic works, but he was best known and loved for his “Garysauruses.” Everyone from young dino-fans to professional art critics appreciated Gary’s brightly colored creatures made from various auto parts, and these monstrous creations helped land him his own solo show at Smithsonian’s own National Museum of Natural History (among many other places) in 1990. I’m no art critic, but I always loved how Gary’s dinosaur sculptures combined the anatomy of flesh and bone (or their automotive equivalents) in the same piece—the sculptures were skeletal, but also looked almost like living animals, perfectly capturing the mix of perspectives paleontologists have on the past.
Sadly, Gary passed away in 2006, but his dinosaurs continue to enthrall visitors to the various institutions in which they are kept. In fact, Gary’s former publicist is trying to find a permanent home for many of the dinosaur sculptures that belonged to a touring collection so that the artist’s legacy can be preserved. I hope the effort is successful. Gary may have made sculptures of prehistoric animals from outdated auto-parts, but his works are timeless.
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