A caravan of automobiles participating in ArtCar Fest '98 will depart Thursday from Berkeley, parade across the Bay Bridge, and snake through San Francisco, pausing at various points of interest (during last year's caravan, these included tony Sea Cliff estates, where car adornment tends toward the single, understated jaguar-shaped hood ornament). Potential caravan viewers and followers can call the fest's hot line for maps and itineraries, but if you stumble upon the convoy by happenstance, you'll know it immediately. The blur of ordinary cars, painted noncommittal modern shades like silvery gray, becomes a mere backdrop for these wildly imaginative, often unwieldy, frequently hilarious, and mostly ingenious rides.
Terry Axelson's bright yellow "Banana Bike" (above) and Larry Fuente's "Cowasaki," a motorcycle covered with fake fur pelt and a cow's head, are enough to make viewers dream of adding wheels to any of their favorite things. Other cars veer less toward the literal and more toward the theoretical, like "The Truck in Flux" (created in the spirit of "elastic symbolism") or the existentially absurd, like the Cacophony Society mascot car "5:04 pm," which is still functional, despite having been crushed by the Loma Prieta earthquake. Those are some of the 100 vehicles to be parked at the three-day fest itself, where kids can help create an art car on-site and the Space Cowgirls will stage a fashion show amid the well-turned-out machines. Co-organizer Harrod Blank, whose new vehicle "Whoa Mamma" pays tribute to rock 'n' roll, will screen his documentaries Driving the Dream and Wild Wheels, plus his dad Les' film The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists. The exhibit opens at 7 p.m. Friday (and runs through Sunday) at Somar Gallery, 934 Brannan (at Ninth Street), S.F. Admission is $2.50-10; call 750-FEST.