Jimmie Johnson Daytona 500 NASCAR suit is now an art exhibit
The idea of turning NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson’s fire suit into a work of art was conceived during a dinner party one night in 2016.
Johnson and his wife, Chandra Johnson, had dinner with setup artist EV Day and her husband, cookbook author Ted Lee, in their loft in Brooklyn, New York. They were introduced by Michele Snyder, senior donations officer at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Johnson noticed Day’s “Bridal Supernova” in his home studio.
“(Day) had this piece of art that was there,” Johnson said in an interview with the Observer. “It was actually a Barbie doll (dress) exploding. I thought, ‘That’s so cool.’ ”
Johnson’s exposure to Day’s work prompted a thought: what if Day blew up one of his fire suits? (These suits contain flame retardant properties and are part of the safety equipment that all drivers use.)
After hours of talking, the Johnsons tasked Day with creating something with Jimmie’s 2006 Daytona 500 race suit.
“When I really turned back, 2006 was a huge year for me and my career,” Johnson said. “The Daytona was my first 500m win. (It was a) very trying time. My crew chief was suspended for a few races. That suspension and the success we had on the track really helped me to mature as a driver and helped our team bond as a group.
“That moment led us to our first championship in 2006,” he said. “Once we won 2006, we won four more, basically five in a row. All roads led to this Daytona 500 fire suit.”
Celebrating the Johnsons
“Daytona Vortex,” by EV Day, made its public debut on December 23 at the Gorelick Gallery on Level 3 of the Uptown Mint Museum. It is on loan from the Johnsons and will be on display until June 5.
The Johnsons are familiar with the Mint and the local art scene. The couple live in Charlotte and Chandra Johnson owns SOCO Gallery in Eastover.
When Jennifer Edwards Sudul, Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Mint, heard about “Daytona Vortex”, she asked if the Mint could exhibit it first. Chandra Johnson served on the Mint’s Board of Directors and is now on the Advisory Board.
“Jimmie and Chani (Chandra Johnson) are great philanthropists,” Edwards Sudul said. “It seemed like a wonderful way to honor them. Let the audience know that not only is he this successful sports figure, but he also has this whole other cultural life and role.
“I wanted to make sure it was celebrated in the galleries.”
“Between chaos and celebration”
Day had complete freedom with the commission. The fire suit arrived via FedEx in 2016 in his Alpinestars bag. The Italian company had custom-built the suit for Johnson.
Day began to explore racing, as well as the history of fire suits. She discovered how the materials incorporated into NASCAR’s fire suits evolved due to NASA’s need to design a safe suit for astronauts.
Day also visited Hendrix Motorsports, watched a Daytona 500 race, and sat next to the team in the pit. She listened on headphones to team captain Chad Knaus talking with Johnson.
A photo from the winning day in 2006 – red, white and blue confetti, fired from a cannon, falling around Johnson – portrays the positivity Day desired.
“It must have been exhilarating in terms of celebration,” Day said. “There is a fine line between chaos and celebration. Which I took very seriously. In no way did I want this to feel like a crash.
Cut open along the seam lines of the firesuit to reveal the structure of the garment.
She revealed the exoskeleton, then added a reinforcing black denim for the frayed sections to maintain the integrity of the fabric. The costume’s reverse engineering is also a way of paying homage to Karuta, the complicated armor of the samurai, according to the Mint.
Tension as a visual cue for art
The piece is anchored to a 30 inch nearly polished stainless steel disc on the ground with heavy fishing line.
Sixty points of fishing line go to the eyebolts in the ceiling, holding all the elements of the suit at different heights. The materials used by Day – steel turnbuckles, heavy fishing line – emphasize the pressure inside the piece.
“In Daytona Vortex, as in all of my ‘Exploding Couture’ sculptures, hundreds of fishing lines are pulled from floor to ceiling and hold fragments of the garment in a new shape, evoking a stop-action explosion,” Day said. . . “The sculpture could also be called a drawing in space composed of lines of tension.
“Tension…is also a visual cue, highlighting the forces needed to metaphorically dismantle an iconic form. Daytona Vortex is a launching pad of festive energy, bursting the seam lines of the fiery suit in victory.
“Commemorating the Moment”
The exploding wedding dress, the one Johnson saw in Day’s studio, is an example of the installation art for which Day is known.
“The dress is for a 12-inch Barbie doll,” Day said. “It’s in a four-foot cage. Hundreds of fishing lines come out of the lace and all the edges, pulling it out in a big puff of explosion. It looks like an exploding star because it explodes from every angle. »
In 2000, Day’s “Bombshell”, the first installation of “Exploding Couture”, was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, an exhibition of contemporary American art at the Whitney Museum.
It’s an eight-foot replica of the white halter dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in the movie, “The Seven Year Itch.” It spans over 20 feet between two floors.
Others in the series include “Black Bombshell” and “Winged Victory”. “Transporter” is part of the Mint’s collection and can be seen on level 4.
“The work I do in the ‘Exploding Couture’ series is really about commemorating the moment and the transition between something that we recognize, an image, and the transformation of female stereotypes that are falling apart,” Day said. “The idea is that he is exploding.”
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This story was originally published March 1, 2022 at 8:13 a.m.