'Kulture' is culture, however you spell it

Huntington Beach show, which echoes one in Laguna 20 years ago, spotlights cars' influence on Southern California art.

July 16, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • The "Munster Koach", the family car used in the television series the Munsters, will be on display as part of the show Kustom Kulture II at the Huntington Beach Art Center. Photo taken on Friday, July 12, 2013. (Scott Smeltzer, Huntington Beach Independent)
The "Munster Koach", the family car used in… (Scott Smeltzer )

Curtains came down on the Munsters in 1966 — long before I was born.

So imagine my surprise Friday when I noticed the Munster Koach trundling down Main Street with a full-throated rumble. The 18-foot vehicle sported a brass radiator and fenders, pearly black paint and a deep red velvet interior — blood red, if you will, to fit the theme of the 1960s sitcom.

Brett Barris — the son of famed custom car designer George Barris, credited with the inception of the Batmobile as well as Drag-U-La from "The Munsters" — watched the hot rod being inched painstakingly into the Huntington Beach Art Center. This space will house "Kustom Kulture II," an exhibition spotlighting cars and all their guises, until Aug. 31.

The original Koach was auctioned off in the early '80s, but George authorized the construction of a second edition for the Hollywood Christmas Parade in 1984.

Being raised by the man who first spelled "custom" and "culture" with a "k" to make sure it stood out, Brett, 52, of Long Beach, describes the ensuing movement as cutting-edge and raw, adding, "It includes art, music, fashion — anything that is out of the norm and not cookie-cutter."


The Laguna Art Museum initially hosted "Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth, Robert Williams & Others" in 1993. The entire museum was utilized to display works by Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, Mike Kelley, Judy Chicago and others, many of which trickled into its satellite space at South Coast Plaza.

Car culture permeates Southern California, said Bolton Colburn, former director of the museum, and the show was an ideal opportunity to investigate its influence on the region's art.

"'Kustom Kulture' was the first piece of programming that Laguna Art Museum did that looked at the crossover of popular culture and the arts in Southern California," he said. "There was a huge response to the exhibition, and it was one of the best-attended shows in the museum's history."

Murmurs about a 20th-anniversary tribute at the Huntington Beach Art Center began in February. C.R. Stecyk, Paul Frank and Greg Escalante teamed up as co-curators for the event, which features work from artists and collectors.

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