Folks don’t usually head to the city tow yard for a good reason.
More often than not, it’s to collect an impounded car. “Nobody’s really leaving that place happy—they pay a lot of money to get their car, and it can be hard,” says artist Matthew Dehaemers, who thought a lot about how people experience Kansas City’s municipal tow yard at 7750 E. Front Street before designing his kinetic sculptures there. Dehaemers wanted to bring a little levity to a difficult moment through his art.
“It’s like a salute,” Dehaemers says of his work the Seven Sentinels, a series of seven powder-coated aluminum and galvanized steel oversized parking gates lining the road leading away from the tow lot.
The sculptures, which stand sixteen feet tall and hover over cars that pass below, were crafted from standard automatic parking gates and fabricated by the A. Zahner Company in Kansas City. They stand equidistant apart inside the traffic island, separating incoming and outgoing traffic from the facility’s entry.
The gates rise as cars leave, presenting a synchronized display, “like sports fans doing the wave or soldiers presenting a military sword tribute,” Dehaemers states.
The gesture is inspired by cultural rites of passage, he says. After the vehicle passes the gates, the sculptures return to their level state in a staggered wave pattern for the benefit of the exiting vehicle’s rear view and for the people at the stop sign across the street. The hope, Dehaemers says, is that this experience will work to curb what is otherwise a frustrating experience in retrieving one’s car.
Dehaemers, whose father operated an auto salvage business, spent a lot of time in tow yards as a kid. “It’s a dirty job,” says the Leawood native. His sculptural salute is meant not only to uplift people leaving the lots with their cars but also to honor the “thankless jobs of the impound facility staff, tow drivers and police personnel” who interact with tow yards on an on-going basis, Dehaemers says.
“My goal is to make art that operates on many different levels in a way that people can be involved in the process, allowing everyone to have a relationship with the art form,” Dehaemers says.
The Seven Sentinels was installed in 2008 and was a commissioned art piece by Kansas City’s One Percent for Art Program.