The Porsche 356 Speedster, Modified & Sculpted by Robert Morris
A landmark figure of Minimalism and the American avant-garde, Robert Morris was a renegade whose six-decade career wove through the major movements of post-war art. Morris notoriously did not confine himself to a single credo, but it is nonetheless his role in establishing Minimalism for which he is most known. Modified and sculpted by the artist himself, the truly singular “outlaw” Porsche Modified 356 Speedster sculpted by Robert Morris bears resemblance to some of Morris’s earliest Minimalist works and can itself be considered a work of (functional) art.
Initially setting out to become a painter, Morris discovered the potential of sculpture in the early 1960s. While helping to build props for the performance of his then-wife, dancer and artist Simone Forti, he made Column, a six-foot tall, empty plywood box in which he stood for several minutes before falling out. This initial work gave way to the constructions that he would assemble and install at Richard Bellamy’s Green Gallery in 1964 – today, seven of these are part of Morris’s long-term installation at Dia: Beacon. Of these seminal works, Phyllis Tuchman noted in the New York Times: “Resting on the floor, propped against walls, even hanging from the ceiling, these smooth-surfaced, gray-colored sculptures are early examples of the art movement — and aesthetic — that became Minimalism.”
This description might also easily apply to the panels of Morris’s Speedster, which he repainted silver and hung in his studio. Morris purchased the 1955 automobile in the 1970s and set to work implementing his own series of customizations, bringing it firmly into the realm of art. In addition to the paint job, Morris (who, notably, enlisted the help of his sculpture assistant, Rolf Horst) made a series of modifications to streamline the Porsche’s silhouette, stripping the car’s body of all trim, including the removal of door handles to create a smooth body line unique to this vehicle. Morris added an aluminum head fairing, passenger tonneau cover, alloy seat, and alloy rear wheel spats. For the interior, he installed custom elements including a blacked-out vinyl dash and diamond-tread rubber floor mats.
Thus modified, Morris’s 356 Porsche Speedster comprises a unique – and perhaps uniquely American – intersection of art and design. As a conceptually-driven artist and thinker, Morris gravitated towards feats of industrial fabrication with commercially available materials including aluminum and steel. Applying these inclinations to his Porsche, Morris fused his own predilections of material and process to a symbol of mobility that was instantly and tremendously popular with American, and particularly Southern Californian, markets upon its introduction in 1954. As Porsche's first-ever production model, the 356 Speedster is among today’s most desirable collector models.
Colloquially known as “outlaw Porsches,” modified Porsches bring verve and flair to already highly coveted automobiles. Bearing his aesthetic choices, Morris’s outlaw 356 Speedster is both an historic luxury automobile and a work of art with extraordinary provenance, crisscrossing through the creative and industrial currents of the 20th century.
Simplicity of shape does not necessarily equate with simplicity of experience.