the preface to the exquisitely crafted volume that accompanied the exhibition,
Art of the Motorcycle
Thomas Krens, Curator
motorcycle is a perfect metaphor for the 20th century. Invented at the
beginning of the industrial age, its evolution tracks the main current
of modernity. The object and its history represent the themes of technology,
engineering, innovation, design, mobility, speed, rebellion, desire,
love, sex, and death. For much of society, the motorcycle remains a
forbidden indulgence, an object of fascination, fantasy, and anger.
Park the latest Ducati, Harley, Honda, or BMW on a street corner in
any city or town in the world, and a crowd will gather....
a practical machine whose history has been one of relentless improvement
and design evolution, the motorcycle as a form class at the end of the
20th century embodies its own end-game paradox. Logic and physics suggests
it has reached the end of its evolutionary potential, but somehow we
know that cannot be completely true. As such, however, it is a quintessential
symbol of the insecurity and optimism of our time.
seems obvious that an exhibition like The Art of the Motorcycle
at the Guggenheim challenges the conventional notion of the art museum
by exploiting the significantly broader framework. If the institution's
original mission is interpreted as a mandate to present paintings and
drawings, then motorcycles have no place on the Guggenheim's ramp. But
the contemporary museum is no longer simply a sanctuary for sacred objects.
The gradual changes in the substructure have been taking place for years.
Like all other social institutions, the art museum has continued to
evolve, responding to new directions in artistic creativity and to pressures
and demands from a better informed, better educated and more demanding
audience.... [There is a new and widespread] feeling that the environment
has changed, that the traditional models for cultural mediation are
no longer adequate, and that new, infinitely complex cultural forms
and institutions are in the process of formation.
Art of the Motorcycle, as an exhibition project, is of particular significance
for the Guggenheim. Its content, context, rationale, and structure offer
a multifaceted opportunity for information and interpretation. The centerpiece
of the project is the precise and comprehensive survey of the history
of motorcycle design expressed through 114 machines
from an 1868 Michaux-Peraux, a 19th-century big-wheeled bicycle with
a steam engine attached under the sea, to a 1998 MV Augusta, a sleek,
Italian-designed touring machine capable of a speed of 170 miles per
hour.The history of the motorcycle describes the history and evolution
of the modern age. In the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Gehry's extraordinary
installation design for the exhibition is an integral part of the experience.
Recognizing the implicit potential of Frank Lloyd Wright's rotunda to
express fantasies of movement and speed, Gehry has fashioned a space
that is as artistically evocative and technologically savvy as the machines
on display. By cladding the interior of the Guggenheim rotunda in highly
reflective stainless steel, Gehry both transforms and emphasizes the
essence of Wright's structure, and suggests the sensuousness and industrial
elegance of motorcycle design.
integral to the exhibition is this carefully crafted catalogue. The
images reproduced here particularly those
views of the motorcycles photographed in black and white against a minimal
white background attempt to neutralize the
surrounding environment and present the machines in a standardized format.
The detailed entries and documentation accompanying each motorcycle
in the catalogue and the exhibition have been contributed by a group
of renowned motorcycle historians to support the integrity and scope
of the checklist. A range of superb essays as well as nine personal
and critical commentaries situate motorcycles in a broader historical
context and cultural milieu, from individual experiences to the analyses
of the iconic value of the motorcycle....
Art of the Motorcycle is organized as a cultural event. The distinctions
separating content from context are blurred; the exhibition becomes
a contemporary creative experience that in its various richness of choices
mirrors our own environment. The Art of the Motorcycle is an obvious
challenge to the conventional mission of the museum to present those
objects of high material culture that are authentic, unique, and grounded
in tradition and history.... As a contemporary institution engaging
scholarship, seriousness of purpose, traditional methodology, and considered
interpretation, the Guggenheim continues it original mission. Designed
as an event, and with a certain level of authority
the luxury of sheer numbers of motorcycles affording a detailed and
subtle presentation The Art of the Motorcycle
signals the beginning of the transformation of the cultural superstructure.