In 2005 Mary Ellen Carroll was invited to participate in the exhibition wir arbeiten immer noch daran, nicht mehr zu arbeiten (we keep working, to no longer work) at the Galerie der Künstler in the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde München. Coincident with the invitation, she inherited a 1985 Buick Riviera from her father, who had died in 2001, but she had neither need nor place for the vehicle in New York City. This model was voted Motor Trend’s 1985 Car of the Year, 206 inches long with a wheel base of 114 inches. The two-door coupe had a 5.0 liter 8-cylinder engine with an automatic transmission and weighed in at 3,800 lbs. curbside.
Carroll elected to use her exhibition budget to ship the Riviera to Germany and utilize the museum as a parking place to store the car. After it was determined that there was no physical way to get the car into the museum, unless it was to be completely disassembled, the decision was made to crash the car into the baroque/neoclassical façade of the Staatliches Museum für Völker-kunde München on Maximillianstrasse in Munich, leaving it there for the duration of the exhibition and eliminating the need for parking in New York City as if it was an accident. Carroll worked with an engineer to determine the speed and angle at which she should approach the museum in order to ascend the building’s steep entrance stairs to execute the accident perfectly and to make the car stop working, in reference to the title of the exhibition. (It was 35 miles per hour and an 18 degree angle.)
As the exhibition approached, the ship’s oceanic transit was delayed due to heavy snowstorms in the Atlantic, and Carroll realized that she might miss the opening; an early disembarking in Liverpool and a drive through the Chunnel and across France and Germany seemed the only way by which she might arrive on time. She changed the port of call and her travel arrangements and made an appointment with the director of the Tate Liverpool, Dr. Christoph Grunenberg. But before leaving, she contacted the shipping agent in Liverpool to check on the location of the ship and was told that it had only gotten as far as the eastern seaboard, in Nova Scotia—meaning that she would be late regardless and it was easier to have the car in the country it ultimately needed to be in. She switched the port of call back to the original one, Bremerhaven, on the North Sea, and asked the Tate Liverpool to send a note to Galerie der Künstler at the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde München stating that she would be late for the exhibition.
Carroll arrived in Bremerhaven two weeks after the opening in Munich, picked up the Riviera, and drove to Berlin where she met the critic and curator Peter Herbstreuth and the photographer Alyssa DeLuccia. They drove together to Munich the next day and crashed the car into the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde München at 9 p.m. while a music performance was taking place inside the museum. When Carroll walked into the performance, she was asked, “How did you get here?” She responded, “I drove.”
At the time Carroll made Late, she was using and dismantling a conceptual Rube Goldberg/stream-of-consciousness method of artmaking that had at its foundation the idea of the accident. Late grafted onto this process concerns with product placement and lateness as a form of institutional critique. The piece bookends another project of Carroll’s, Stronger Than Dirt, which relates to the incident where the Doors sold “Light My Fire” to Buick for a commercial unbeknownst to Jim Morrison, who stopped the transaction by threatening to break up the band. In response, Morrison added the popular jingle from Ajax detergent, “Stronger Than Dirt,” to the end of “Touch Me” when the Doors performed at the Fillmore in 1967. Late also makes oblique reference to the misappropriation by the advertising agency Weiden and Kennedy of Fischli and Weiss’s The Way Things Go for a Honda television commercial.