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How 10 Cadillacs got nose-deep in Amarillo dirt — and why you should see them

Cadillac Ranch, one of the most iconic artworks in all of Texas, stands in a field at the edge of Amarillo. It’s made up of 10 old Cadillacs buried in a field -- and a lot of spray paint.  

A group of artists called Ant Farm took on a simple, powerful task in 1974: They would bury 10 Cadillacs in the dirt of Amarillo, near Old Route 66, noses underground, tail fins turned toward the Texas sky.

As this video shows, all these years later, the artwork is deeply loved and heavily amended. It has been moved once (to keep its distance from the encroaching city), and the cars have been covered countless times by new layers of spray paint. This paint has come not from the original artists but from visitors.

The Ant Farm founders decided they were OK with that, said Jon Revett, an assistant professor of art at West Texas A&M University.

“They say sometime in the early ’80s, somebody spray-painted a little, then it got a little more. Within three years, it had started becoming what it is,” Revett said. “The artists agree that it’s become its own thing.”

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Its story is further complicated by the biography of its patron, an Amarillo eccentric named Stanley Marsh 3, who insisted on Arabic numerals, not Roman ones.

Marsh was admired for years as a playful booster of the arts, but in the years before his 2014 death, his reputation was stained by accusations that he had sexually abused teenage boys.

The group Ant Farm was started in San Francisco by Chip Lord and Doug Michels, and its work has been collected by institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The buried Cadillacs are various models from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.

Bruce Springsteen used the name “Cadillac Ranch” for a song released in 1980. As the website Roadside America notes, those Cadillacs “have now been in the ground as art longer than they were on the road as cars.”

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Anyway, it’s free to visit and stroll around the site, which is on the western edge of town. Add some paint if you choose. Just be sure you’re standing upwind when you do.

christopher.reynolds@latimes.com

Follow Reynolds on Twitter: @MrCSReynolds


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