Monday, 1 August 2011

Art On Four Wheels

During our travels I always try to make a point of visiting the local art gallery. Even if it’s one of the lesser known ones, you never know what you might find either as part of their permanent collection or part of a touring show. So while in town I decided to visit the Portland Art Museum to see what I might discover. It was my good fortune that they were currently displaying a touring exhibition called ‘The Allure of the Automobile’ which was displaying 16 amazing cars from between 1930 and 1960. The collection consisted of some of the most rare and probably some of the most expensive cars currently in private ownership. In fact, I would doubt whether you could view a collection of this quality anywhere in the world, so I was quite fortunate to catch it. Now, many might argue the case for whether a motorcar can actually be classified as art, but after viewing this exhibition there is no debate. The vehicles on show were truly magnificent sculptural forms on wheels that could be appreciated for their unique design, whether you are into motorcars or not. Case in point was my favourite, the 1937 Dubonnet Hispano-Suiza, an absolute one-off that has all the hallmarks of a space ship rather that an automobile. This must have been an exciting age for car design that held such promise for the future. I’m not quite sure what happened along the way that so many mediocre designs emerged in the years that followed. Nonetheless, through such exhibitions we can now appreciate some of the more innovative designers such as Porsche, Jaguar and Bentley. One vehicle that was on display that didn’t quite make it commercially was the ‘Tucker Torpedo’ designed by Preston Tucker (as depicted by Jeff Bridges in the 1988 film ‘Tucker: The Man and His Dream’). This innovative 1948 car had many interesting design features (including a futuristic ‘cyclops eye’ headlight), but in the end there were only ever 51 manufactured. The cars on display in the Portland Art Museum were certainly unique and the precursor of the concept cars of today. Like all forms of high art, they were eloquent in their styling and very much to be admired. However, then and now these cars would always remain very much out of reach of the average person.

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