Home » This Old VW Press Photo Of An Ambulance Reminds Me Of A Famous Work Of Art: Cold Start

This Old VW Press Photo Of An Ambulance Reminds Me Of A Famous Work Of Art: Cold Start

Cs Vwambulance Beuys
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You know a mental feeling that I like a lot? That exciting little spark that happens when something really reminds you of something else. It’s sort of like a misfire, because the thing that you’ve seen that inspired this analogous recollection clearly isn’t that thing, but the connection that is drawn between them is undeniable, and often that connection leads to other fun brain things like laughter or creativity or a whole new idea spawned by the linking of these two disconnected things. This sensation happened to me when I saw the image above, an old Volkswagen press photo of a Type 2 Ambulance with a “disaster trailer.” This image immediately made me think of a 1969 installation by the German artist Joseph Beuys called The Pack. Let’s take a look!

You may be familiar with this work; I’ll be honest, I don’t have much sense of how well known a lot of these things are? But, I think it’s safe to say that this is the most famous installation that includes a VW Bus, felt, fat, and flashlights of all time.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

To save you some scrolling, here’s that old ’50s-era press photo again:

Cs Vwambulance Beuys 4

It’s worth noting that most Type 2s of this era were what’s known as Barn Door buses, where the engine lid was huge (like a barn door) and there was no upper hatch; the Ambulance version introduced that hatch, though in this case it folded down instead of up. Still, this was a huge improvement to the Bus, for loading stuff purposes.

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Okay, now, here’s a picture of Beuys’ The Pack:

Cs Vwambulance Beuys 2

You can see how it feels the same, right? There’s a clear visual kinship here, and looking at that Ambulance shot, the recognition was immediate.

The Pack is an interesting work; it consists of that beat-up old bus and 20 little sledges, each with a roll of felt, a lump of fat, and a flashlight. The sledges appear to be making their way out of the bus and going off to explore or rescue people or something like that. You see, Beuys put those items on the sledges because he felt they were what was needed for survival: the felt for warmth, the fat for sustenance and energy (ew), and the flashlight for finding your way around.

The story behind it has to do with Beuys being in a plane crash over Crimea during WWII, and how local nomadic Tartars rescued him, covering him in fat and felt to keep him alive and safe. I’m not exactly sure how true this story is generally thought to be, but I do know that fat and felt show up in Beuys’ work over and over, so something about those materials made a pretty big impact on him.

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I saw this piece at the Tate Modern in London a number of years ago, and I found it to be oddly powerful. You get the sense that, to Beuys, these packs really do mean survival, and them crawling out of that van and spreading out has a strange feeling of hopeful, rugged determination. These little sledges, which seem strangely alive, are fanning out into inhospitable territory, looking for people in trouble, wrapping them in felt, feeding them fat, then turning on their little lights to take you back to the safety of that old van. It’s a good piece.

Oh, this is also important – the bus seems to have an interesting taillight detail:

Cs Vwambulance Beuys 3

VW buses didn’t get reverse lamps as standard until 1967, but there were aftermarket options available, and I think that’s what we’re looking at here, a Bosch or Hella or some similar kind of accessory reverse light, mounted into the engine lid there. I think it works well here; you may want a nice bright light back there to make it easier for those sledges to find the van as they return with their bundled-up rescuees.

And they said my Art History degree wouldn’t be useful! Fools!

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Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago

Disregard

Last edited 1 month ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
1 month ago

More car art content please! Ed Kienholz (Central Meridian (The Garage)), Chris Burden (Metropolis II), Michael C. McMillen (Back Seat Dodge ’38) are all at LACMA across the street from the Petersen Museum in LA!

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
1 month ago

Cool, but by the time an old VW bus made it to a disaster or accident site, someone would already have made a movie about it.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 month ago

Eh, no, it can be argued that back in those days a VW bus ambulance had a much better chance of making it to an accident site through the congested and labyrinthine streets of a typical European city than, say, a V-8-powered Miller-Meteor-bodied Cadillac ambulance.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
1 month ago

True, but I don’t think those coexisted in the same ecosystem.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard about Joseph Beuys, but weird 60s art, taillights and a Volkswagen all in one post is peak Autopian.

Which reminds me, Joseph Beuys also did a similar piece that included an Austin Allegro shooting brake
F.I.U. : the defense of nature 1983

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 month ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

It’s clearer from this angle:

https://www.guggenheim.org/wp-content/uploads/1983/01/85.3315_ph_web-1.jpg

that its Hydragas suspension needs to be serviced.

Interestingly this article claims the car was made in Italy, presumably because someone mistakenly confused it with an Innocenti Regent:

https://www.nytimes.com/1986/10/31/arts/art-joseph-beuys-at-the-feldman-gallery.html

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

The amount of arcane nerdery on the Autopian is off the charts and I love it. Thanks for the links,I learned something.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
1 month ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

The shooting brake was the best looking Allegro. Everything about the proportions just works better.

Last edited 1 month ago by Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 month ago

The guy who imported my Allegro 3 sedan also brought over an earlier estate which he sold to someone several years ago who then drove off and subsequently never seems to have made any contact with anyone in the Seattle-area British car community. A few years ago another person took a photo of it sitting in a driveway in Bellingham, WA, apparently in rough shape, and sent it to the original guy to ask whether this one had been his car, which it had. I’ve seen the photo but I don’t have any information on the address and regrettably Bellingham is a bit too big and a bit too far away for me to search exhausively.

Last weekend at the Weird & Wacky Car Show in Kent, WA, I spoke with the original guy but he still doesn’t have any more information about it. He liked my new Triumph Acclaim, though.

Bram Oude Elberink
Bram Oude Elberink
1 month ago

The trailer is a Westfalia trailer. There are some examples left:
https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/418271884133526158/

There are more types of Westfalia trailers from that era:
https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/410672059783807736/

Lincoln Clown CaR
Lincoln Clown CaR
1 month ago

This art seems like something Dieter from Sprockets would appreciate.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 month ago

Dieter just wants someone to touch his monkey…

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 month ago

Those open wooden sledges are stylish but I prefer the practicality of a fully-enclosed, lightweight magnesium USAF Arctic survival sled for all of my racing

https://www.murileemartin.com/UG/LWA12/LWA12-UG-168.jpg

and rallying

https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/52766800548_dc5fe0a28c_c.jpg

needs.

I’ve survived so far.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

These images suggest to me Omar Kayaam’s “A Book of Verses underneath the Bough” from the Rubaiyat (below):

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, A Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

And here’s the reimagined version:

A Flash of light lashed upon the Sleigh
A Roll of Felt, A Lump of Fat—and Thou
Beside me swaddling in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness we’ll Survive enow!

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago

Sledge vs Sled.

Discuss.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
1 month ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Toboggan.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago
Reply to  Nic Periton

Isn’t a toboggan a specific subset of sled?

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Sled hammer vs sledge hammer?
See also
Plough vs plow.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Luge

Alex Rockey
Alex Rockey
1 month ago

A fully loaded trailer on a 50s air-cooled VW bus?!?!?!?

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Rockey

Yeah, it better not be a time-sensitive emergency.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Rockey

Yeah, those buses, especially with their portal axles in rear, had surprising amounts of torque. And they would’ve been used mainly in city traffic where speed can be a bit of a moot issue with all the heavy congestion therein. And, besides, cities in Europe, with their cramped and labyrinthine streets, do tend to be different from the sprawling suburban-ringed cities of the U.S., lol. Heck, studies have shown the average traffic speeds of London of today to be about the same as London in 1900 despite 5-second-0-to-60 motorized vehicles replacing horse-drawn carriages.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago

Love this. It’s like the car version of https://twitter.com/ArtButSports

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
1 month ago

If Jason has the unfortunate luck of dying, we’ll be sure to use a Typ 2 ambulance and disaster trailer as his hearse.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 month ago

Ah, yes, peak Autopian right there, art history plus air-cooled VW plus taillight technology. Always glad to learn something new from such a Venn diagram, especially with one’s morning coffee.
The only other artwork involving an air-cooled VW that I can think of (it’s still too early in the morning) is Chris Burden’s 1974 performance art work, Trans-Fixed, where he had himself crucifixed on the back of a Beetle which was then backed out into a roadway or alleyway and run for several minutes:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b2/Transfixed_%28Burden%29.jpg

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
1 month ago

That disaster trailer is coffin-like to an unsettling degree.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 month ago
Reply to  Flyingstitch

German practicality in action. You load it up with rescue supplies, but once it becomes clear nobody survived the plane crash you can toss the blankets and stuff out to make room for bodies.

SAABstory
SAABstory
1 month ago

Art/Autos. Plus reverse lamp knowledge.

This is top quality Autopian.

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