Some art is too big to display except on special occasions.
Such is the case with a piece in the Missoula Art Museum's Carnegie Galleries.
Cut from wood and made to three-quarter scale, it depicts a hot rod crashing into the Lincoln cabin of the Unabomber.
Chris Larson's installation, titled "Pause (the Dukes of Hazzard '69 Charger and Ted Kaczynski's Montana Refuge)," is part of the MAM's Permanent Collection, but rarely makes it out of storage.
Senior Curator Brandon Reintjes believes that it's been loaned out once since it was originally shown in 2007.
Outside of this current show, "Site Complex: Installation Work from the MAM Collection," the piece is simply too big to bring out just for kicks. Normally, it's stored in four 850-pound crates that can't fit through the museum doors.
Putting it back together was like working with a model kit on large scale. They had photographs from the original exhibition and a set of notes, and called in former curator Steve Glueckert for guidance.
The boards forming the walls of the cabin can be replaced, except for the wall the Dukes are smashing through. The car was reassembled from four main quadrants and is held together with wood clamps, with a gallows-like scaffolding that it rests on at an angle, Reitnjes said.
Given how it resonated with audiences back in 2007, he said they wanted to give "a new generation of MAM viewers" a chance to see it. The timing is fortuitous, since the Discovery Channel released a series based on the nationwide manhunt for Kaczynski last year, and Shartlo Copley ("District 9," "Chappie") stars as Kaczynski in an upcoming film, "Ted K."
Once whole again, it's an "awesome" thing to have, he said. And like many of the pieces in "Site Complex," it's visually engaging and easy to appreciate, despite any nervousness audiences might have about installation art — pieces that are not quite sculpture, made to be displayed in a particular space in a particular way.
Reintjes said it's a rare opportunity to show many of these works, which were either donated or purchased by the museum and are held in storage. More often, they pull pieces from the collection to supplement a show.
"This time, we thought, 'Why don't use pieces from the collection to be the main feature, and put it in in our largest space?'" he said. Some, like "Pause," are somewhat mythical due to their size.
Installations are an important language of art, Reintjes said, and it's important for museums, which have the space, to exhibit them.
"We have an obligation to the contemporary artists in the state to represent them in various ways, but also to remind our audience that installation art is very much an important part of contemporary art," he said.
The next largest piece, at least by dimensions and weight, towers over the corner: two 10-foot-tall columns. At their feet lies another column, that perhaps alluding to a fallen arch, Reintjes said. It fits with artist Terry Karson's concerns about post-consumer waste and ruins. Step closer to the arches and you'll see they're not made from bricks. Their surfaces are decorated with "tiles" of cardboard packages, from cereal and the like, that he sanded down to give the appearance of age.
Originally, these columns were part of a 2012 full-room installation, "Commons," in another MAM gallery, where he lined the walls and built columns. It was one of the last large projects completed by the Ennis artist before he died of cancer in 2017.
Elsewhere in the gallery, artists give an you a broad idea of what installation art can be.
Missoula painter and photographer Kristi Hager's painted fabric scrims hang from the ceiling. A video installation by Lisa Reihana, an indigenous artist from New Zealand, will play on a tower of television sets. Dyna Kurhnle's "Against the Current" is an installation, but the arrangement could be translated into a painting. She arranged an old locker against a wood panel, complete with moss, on a square of blue and white tile. A towel is tossed on top of the locker. A pair of flip-flops lay on the ground. The bottom of the locker is filled with potpourri. It was originally shown in 2006 to celebrate the opening of the MAM's expanded building.
Not every piece in the show plays with scale to such a degree.
British artist Hamish Fulton has been described as "walking artist," who makes his work based on long excursions into nature. His piece, "21 Pieces of Wood for a 21 Day Walk in Montana" represents a backpacking trip in the Beartooth Mountains through a simple line tracing mileage and elevation gain.
It could fit comfortably on an apartment's living room wall, yet implies long distances and high peaks.
He showed his work at the MAM in 1997, stenciling words on the walls to conjure up imagery of experiences. (The MAM also exhibited this in 2013, and the Trail Head plugged the show in an ad that was otherwise dedicated to Patagonia gear.)
It's hanging on the wall to the left when you walk into the gallery, a small introduction that signals that installation art can be as broad as the artist likes, and as familiar as a walk in the mountains.