Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Baby, You Can't Drive These Cars

Several years ago, when my team was working with the High Museum of Art to publicize the Renzo Piano-designed expansion, I spent a morning visiting Chattanooga TV stations with one of the museum's executives.

During some early morning chit-chat between broadcast interviews, we got to talking about popular museum exhibitions of the day, and some of the vehicles on display at the Museum of Modern Art got mentioned.

At the time, it was thrilling to learn the High Museum would consider an automobile exhibition for Atlanta. Finally this spring, the High Museum delivered on this promise, with "The Allure of the Automobile" on display through mid-June.

I spent a recent Thursday evening checking out the gorgeous, multimillion-dollar cars on display. Talk about eye-candy!

The first vehicle to meet visitors' eyes is a satin yellow Duesenberg once gifted to Clark Gable by his wife Carole Lombard. Though it is not mentioned specifically in the exhibition (or at least I did not spot mention of it), I am convinced this very car was driven by Jack Nicholson's character in the film "Chinatown." Breathtaking beautiful!

From the streamline front-end decor of this No. 1 show car to each of the next five or so autos on view, the hood ornaments showcase an era of pride and craftsmanship not to be seen again (see photos).

When I rounded the corner to the second gallery, the first of two Mercedes-Benz dreamboats appeared -- was this the 1930s convertible on the cover of my first car book in fourth grade? Why yes, it was!

Several brands never seen, or only very rarely heard-of, filled the main room of "The Allure of the Automobile."

Highlights include an Alpha Romeo remniscent of the one blown up in 'The Godfather" (remember the tragic end of Michael Corleone's first wife? Alpha Romeo go bye-bye!), as well as a hunter green Aston Martin reminiscent of Sean Connery's hot wheels in "Goldfinger" (which the High Museum will screen as one of several car-filled films shown in conjunction with "The Allure").

The ostrich-pelt upholstery of a bumble bee colored Bugatti should not be missed.

Favorite moments also include an up-close look at a two-tone turquoise Tucker, and a room of Porsche and Ferrari racers that took me back to "Faster, Pussycat, Kill-Kill" era films (too bad this classic sports car feature won't run with the exhibition movies).

Probably the only let down -- sadly, a HUGE let down -- with "The Allure of the Automobile" is that on paper (and the High website) there is mention of a 300 series Mercedes-Benz from the mid-1950s. Many, I think, are led to believe that the very rare "gull-winged" Mercedes is in the building, only to find a topless racer version of the 300 series in da house. BOOOOOOO! Or as they say in auto racing, "BOOOOOOO!"

To add insult to the injury, the High catalog/coffee table book for the exhibition shamelessly deletes the actual racer Benz in the building, replacing it with glossy outdoor photos the gull-winged version that everyone wants to see. Its as though the curators put their wishful thinking into print, so that 25 years from now readers may get the impression "The High had that car on display?!" (sadly, the High did not).

The exhibit does sort of make up for the missing 300 coupe by concluding 'The Allure" with a prototype Corvette -- snazzy!

I highly recommend a visit to the High Museum auto art exhibition, and if you scoot on over there this weekend you can catch the excellent "John Portman - Art and Architecture" exhibition in its final days (disclosure: Portman is a client). Then get in your car and cruise downtown Atlanta, dreaming your the captain of your favorite "Allure" auto.

Drive safely!

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