Exhibition highlights include:
Today’s automotive manufacturers often strive for economy and efficiency,but there was a time when art and elegance reigned. This month, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, opens Sculpted in Steel: Art Deco Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1929–1940, an exhibition that celebrates the cars and motorcycles designed during this iconic period. Fourteen cars and three motorcycles will be on view alongside vintage images and historical footage. Showcasing vehicles from renowned car collectors and museum collections in the United States, Sculpted in Steel will be presented in Houston from February 21 to May 30, 2016.
Ken Gross, a noted automobile expert and former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, worked together with Cindi Strauss, the Museum’s curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design, on the selection for the exhibition, which draws on a concept originally developed for the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville.
“The 14 remarkable cars and three motorcycles on view in Sculpted in Steel were crafted from the finest materials of the time,” said Gross. “They remain today some of the most exciting, iconic, and refined designs of the 20th century.”
· 1930 Henderson KJ Streamline. Henderson was a division of Excelsior Motor Mfg. & Supply Co., a competitor of Harley-Davidson. The custom, one-of-a-kind Model KJ, designed by O. Ray Courtney, is perhaps the fullest expression of streamlining in a motorcycle. Its teardrop-shaped body, fuselage-like fenders, and chromed grille and details unite to form a unified image of speed.
· 1934 Edsel Fords Model 40 Special Speedster. Designed by Ford Motor Company styling chief E.T. “Bob” Gregorie with Ford Aircraft Division fabricators, the Model 40 Special Speedster was built specifically for the company’s president, Edsel B. Ford, and is the only of its kind ever made. Its low-slung design incorporates both racing and aeronautical elements.
· 1936 Stout Scarab. Designed by William Bushnell Stout for his own engineering firm, the Scarab features a streamlined, beetle-like shape and a rear engine. In the Scarab, Stout created a living area on wheels: interior features include movable seats, a folding table, and a backseat that folds into a couch. For these aspects and its capacity to carry numerous passengers, the Scarab is often described as the precursor to the minivan. Fewer than 10 were produced.
· 1937 Delahaye 135 MS Roadster. Created by elite French coach builders Joseph Figoni and Ovidio Falaschi for the 1937 Paris Auto Show, the Delahaye 135 MS Roadster features an all-aluminum body, as well as leather interior and matching carpets provided by Hermès. The disappearing front windshield, sleek convertible top, and fluid chrome detailing are signatures of Figoni & Falaschi.
· 1938 Tatra T97. Designed in Czechoslovakia by Hans Ledwinka, the Tatra T97 embraced the teardrop form of streamlining by licensing the concepts developed by Zeppelin designer Paul Jaray. Its prominent rear dorsal fin, “fast-back,” and integrated fenders projected a
futuristic, speed-oriented form. The T97 was the smallest model that embodied Tatra’s new design philosophy.
Sculpted in Steel will be complemented by an exhibition of Art Deco objects from the Museum’s permanent collection. Deco Nights: Evenings in the Jazz Age, on view from December 12, 2015,
to June 5, 2016, will feature costumes, accessories, furniture, metalwork, and glass, along with photographs, books, and works on paper that reflect entertaining in the 1920s and 1930s.