Holiday Traffic

Benton Murdoch Spruance, Traffic Control, 1936, lithograph on woven paper, 9 × 14 3/8 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds provided by Russel I. and Hannah S. Kully. Image courtesy of bentonspruance.com.

Benton Murdoch Spruance, Traffic Control, 1936, lithograph on woven paper, 9 × 14 3/8 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds provided by Russel I. and Hannah S. Kully. Image courtesy of bentonspruance.com.

As you sit around the table this Thanksgiving, conversing with relatives or suffering through a carb coma, you may think about the mayhem of bargains, lines, and bad behavior that is to come on Black Friday.

We live in Southern California, and what really worries us is Black Friday traffic. Crying children and “hangry” families can be dealt with, but getting stuck on the 10 Freeway is maddening and, clearly, all your fault. Many of us will contemplate ways to outwit Black Friday traffic. However, that’s where the real anxiety starts. Black Friday isn’t the normal headache of a weekday commute, much less a blissful weekend morning when one can speed through downtown L.A. (I have no hints on which freeways to avoid. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t reveal them in a blog.)

Detail of Benton Murdoch Spruance's Traffic Control, 1936. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds provided by Russel I. and Hannah S. Kully. Full image courtesy of bentonspruance.com.

Detail of Benton Murdoch Spruance’s Traffic Control, 1936. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds provided by Russel I. and Hannah S. Kully. Full image courtesy of bentonspruance.com.

Because holiday traffic is such an integral part of the SoCal experience, Benton Murdoch Spruance’s Traffic Control is a timely image. There are no turkeys, no shoppers, hardly any drivers—just a few silhouettes. But there is a street with cars packed together like tightly laid ceramic tiles.

At first glance, the cars’ irregular rhythms feel static. They’re stuck waiting for a light to change or an impediment to be removed. However, if you keep looking, they start sliding around each other, darting this way and that. Nothing really moves—this is a lithograph, not a motion picture—but the artist gets at that peculiar way congested traffic seems to be frozen, even as cars trundle imperceptibly forward, nerves fray, and patience wears thin. Put another way, Spruance’s cars are standing still and still moving. I wonder if he ever lived in Los Angeles?

Detail of Benton Murdoch Spruance's Traffic Control, 1936. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds provided by Russel I. and Hannah S. Kully. Full image courtesy of bentonspruance.com.

Detail of Benton Murdoch Spruance’s Traffic Control, 1936. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds provided by Russel I. and Hannah S. Kully. Full image courtesy of bentonspruance.com.

Traffic Control is currently on display in the Huntington Art Gallery as part of the exhibition “A World of Strangers: Crowds in American Art,” on view through April 5, 2016.

You can read a review of this exhibition here.

James Glisson is the Bradford and Christine Mishler Assistant Curator of American Art at The Huntington.

3 thoughts on “Holiday Traffic

  1. I nearly always observe Black Friday by staying home. I told my wife that if I go anywhere, it might be to Ludlow, in the Mojave Desert, which is at least 50 miles from the nearest big-box store and where the main activity is trainwatching on the former Santa Fe main line.

  2. I just have been re-reading the exhibition guide. Of the hundreds of shows I have seen, A World of Strangers is my second favorite. I also enjoyed reading this post, as the day before I visited the Huntington, I was stuck in pre-Christmas traffic on I-5. I assumed that a crash was the cause until the spectacle of the Citadel outlet mall and its jammed exit ramp came into view.

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