Dustin Shuler dies at 61; L.A. artist skewered cars into pop art

Dustin Shuler, a Los Angeles artist known for large-scale outdoor installations that included his most famous work, a sculpture of skewered automobiles in a suburban Chicago shopping plaza, has died. He was 61.

Shuler died May 4 of pancreatic cancer at his Inglewood home, said his wife, Karen Zindler-Shuler.

Installed in a parking lot in 1989, the 50- foot-high “Spindle” became something of a landmark in Berwyn, Ill., before it was dismantled nearly 20 years later to make way for a drugstore.

When one of the shopping mall’s owners asked for help spicing up the plaza, Shuler, who often made car-based art, proposed an idea that he had long contemplated.


“People used to put bills on spindles, so why not put cars on a really tall one?” he said in a 2003 Chicago Tribune article.

The sculpture gained wider fame when it appeared in the 1992 movie “Wayne’s World” and in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” video. Some referred to the piece as “the car kebab.” It was crowned with a VW Beetle.

After it was announced that the sculpture would be torn down, hundreds participated in Save the Spindle rallies, which moved Shuler.

“It would have been a lot easier for me if people hadn’t fallen in love with it,” Shuler said in a 2007 National Public Radio interview of the demise of his eight cars on a spike. “I’d love to see my work continue on, but it doesn’t bother me.”


Although he drew and created some smaller-form art, he was drawn to size and fascinated by “the visual effects of the natural process of deterioration,” his wife said.

In 1980, Shuler received attention for a work of performance art at Cal State Dominguez Hills when he dropped an oversized steel nail from a crane into a 1959 Cadillac. He called the work “Death of an Era.”

To help pay for the event, Shuler stripped the Cadillac to sell parts as souvenirs, which gave him the idea to deconstruct cars and lay out their flattened bodies as “pelts,” another abstraction for which he was known.

“He was always aware of the provocative nature of his work, but that was never the reason for doing it,” his wife said.


Born in 1948 in Wilkinsburg, Pa., Shuler took art classes at night at what is now Carnegie Mellon University while working in a factory for Westinghouse Electric Corp.

In his early 20s, he moved to Southern California, and for several years in the 1970s he worked as a welder in an aircraft engine factory before turning to art full time.

He had installation commissions for public spaces around the country and had exhibited widely in California.

For a temporary installation in Los Angeles in 1982, Shuler pinned a 700-pound Cessna 150 aircraft to the wall of the American Hotel, employing his 20-foot nail.


His “Sea Bee” sculpture incorporated the bow from a boat and was installed in 1990 in a Massachusetts parking lot. It looked like it “was either sinking into or emerging from an asphalt sea,” Mike McGee, an art gallery director at Cal State Fullerton, said in a statement.

When new shopping center owners decided to remove the sculpture in 2002, Shuler cut more than 7 feet from the top and reinstalled “Sea Bee” on the Cal State Fullerton campus.

In addition to his wife, Shuler is survived by a brother, Terry; and a sister, Lynn Seng.