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Visitors to Ken Butler’s new show at artMovingProjects might be forgiven for thinking they stepped into some kind of bizarre hobby shop. But that’s what happens when an artist lets his childhood obsession with slot cars and auto racing run wild.

The centerpiece of Butler’s new show at the North 12th Street gallery is a 40-foot slot car track and a number of actual slot cars that Butler has “hybridized” in his inimitable style.

That’s how a car ended up as a combination of a sponge and a sardine can.

“I love the idea of transforma­tion,” says the artist, whimsically festooned at the Sept. 8 opening in a NASCAR racing shirt and driving gloves. “A blank canvas doesn’t interest me as much as the idea of recombining found objects and discovering new meaning in material that already exists. There’s also a function aspect — it’s recycling!”

Butler is best known for creating and performing on hybridized musical instruments, rigging items like snow shovels, tennis rackets and toothbrushes with strings. Some of his creations hang on the wall of the Knitting Factory, where he has performed countless times in a long career that has also included appearances on “The Tonight Show” and in “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.” His work mixes humor, a spirit of curiosity, and a passion for form.

Having created over 400 hybrid instruments, Butler says he was beginning to feel he’d exhausted the possibilities in that direction. Working on a film project in 2000 brought him into contact with miniature models of buildings and landscapes, reminding him of his teenage passion for slot cars.

“I still had two boxes of my old slots in my mom’s basement. About 50 cars. I now have about 100 cars total. After awhile I got the idea to hybridize them as I do with my instruments, not as an art project, more of as a hobby. It was Aron Namenwirth [director of artMoving Projects] who had the idea of making an exhibition out of it.”

Along with the slot cars and tracks, one will find a number of other eye-opening works in the exhibition, ranging from the very old (a prize-winning car design executed by Butler in high school for a contest sponsored by the Fisher Body Company Craftsmen’s Guild), to a series of imaginative pencil works on paper: sketches for crazy cars and elaborate musical instruments that mix the instincts of Da Vinci and Dr. Frankenstein.

“They’re a way for me to dream up installation ideas without having to build them,” Butler said of the sketches.

Children will especially respond to this exhibition, in particular the race-driving simulator Butler has created by adding a car seat, steering wheel and pedals to a computer and some well-known gaming software.

Butler is a youthful 59, despite undergoing a liver transplant less than a month ago. At his opening, he was the life of the party, and looking at least 10 years younger. All of which goes to suggest that there are far worse things we could do than revive our youthful obsessions.

Ken Butler’s “Drawing and Driving” runs through Oct. 14 at artMovingProjects (166 N. 12th St., between Bedford and Berry streets in Williamsburg), Thurs–Sun, 1–6 pm. Call (917) 301-6680 or (917) 301-0306 for information.

Updated 4:32 pm, July 9, 2018
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