An Extraordinary Melding of Art, Automobiles & Architecture

Images: Gautam Sen

Arguably one of the most important architects of the 20th century, Baron Norman Foster is also an aesthete with an impressive knowledge and exquisite taste in art as well as historic automobiles.

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Motion: Autos, Art, Architecture

Winner of over 300 awards and prizes of excellence around the world, as well as 60 ‘victories’ in national and international competitions, 87-year-old Norman Foster had already curated an exhibition devoted to contemporary art at the Carré d'Art in Nîmes, France, before his latest curating of an exhibition titled Motion: Autos, Art, Architecture at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

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Both the Tatra T87 from 1948 as well as the '34 Chrysler Airflow belong to Norman Foster

Foster has put together a fascinating exposition of 40 cars, spanning from the replica of the first Benz Patent Wagon (with the original hailing from 1986) to the world championship winning 2020 Mercedes-Benz W11 F1 racer of former world champion Lewis Hamilton, spread over seven galleries, each housing thematically different aspects of the automobile, such as concept cars of the future, art deco cars from before the war, as well as popular cars that contributed to motorizing the world.

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An early hybrid was this Lohner-Porsche and next to it, a Model T

And it is not just cars—there’s automobilia, paintings and photographs from famous artists such as Francis Picabia and Jacques Henri Lartigue; plus, architectural drawings and scale models in connection with the automobile.

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This Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Eagle has been lent by the Beaulieu Museum

Nine of the cars on display are from Norman Foster’s personal collection and that includes cars such as a Chrysler Airflow from 1943, an early ‘61 Jaguar E-Type, as well as his recreation (in 2010) of Buckminster Fuller’s outlandish Dymaxion Car (the original was made in July 1933).

Motion: Autos, Art, Architecture, which runs until 18th of September, celebrates the artistic dimension of the automobile and links it to the parallel worlds of painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, and film.

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There were two Bugattis at the exhibition; this being a representation of the Type 35

In this holistic approach, the exhibition challenges the separate silos of these disciplines and explores how they are visually and culturally linked together.

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The other Bugatti was the extremely rare (one of three extant) and desirable Type 57C Atlantic, owned by Peter Mullin

The exhibition considers the affinities between technology and art, showing, for example, how the use of the wind tunnel helped to aerodynamically shape the automobile to go faster with more economic use of power.

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The other Peter Mullin car was this Delahaye 165, the only one powered by a V12

This streamlining revolution was echoed in works of the Futurist movement and by other artists of the period. It was also reflected in the industrial design of everything, from household appliances to locomotives.

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Of course an exhibition on cars in Spain cannot be complete without one of these astounding Pegasos, lent by the Louwman Museum, The Hague

Foster’s selection of 40 cars is, as he sees them, the best of its kind in terms of beauty, rarity, technical progress, and a vision of the future.

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As examples of mobility for the masses, Foster put together a Citroen 2CV and two VWs: a Beetle and a Microbus

These are placed centre stage in the galleries and surrounded by significant works of art and architecture.

The other examples of people's cars included half a Mini and a BMW 600 

Many of these had never left their homes in private collections and public institutions, thus a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them is made accessible to a much wider audience beyond automotive enthusiasts only.

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The delightful Minissima designed by William Towns, now owned by American collector Phillip Sarofim

Some of the most remarkable cars on display include the one and only V12-powered Delahaye 165, one of three Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantics extant today (both of which come from the Mullin Automotive Museum), one-off concepts cars such as the three Firebirds from General Motors, the be-winged Alfa Romeo B.A.T 7 designed by Franco Scaglione, and the astounding Marcello Gandini-designed Lancia Stratos Zero concept.

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Le Corbusier's idea of what a minimalist car should be: the Voiture Minimum

There are also several exotic rarities such as a Porsche 356, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, an early Jaguar E-Type from Norman Foster’s personal collection, just like the ‘34 Chrysler Airflow and the Tatra T87.

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Two epochal Germans: a Porsche 356 and a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

Two other noteworthy cars from Norman Foster’s personal collection include a Voisin C7 Lumineuse, which was used by Le Corbusier, and a recreation of another great architect’s idea of a car, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion three-wheeler.

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Nick Mason's legendary Ferrari 250 GTO, one which he has owned for more than 40 years

The very beginnings of motoring are represented by a replica of a Benz Patent Wagon (likely fabricated in Coimbatore), as well as a Ford Model T and a Lohner-Porsche hybrid. Mass motorization is encapsulated by cars like the Citroen 2CV, a cut-out of a Mini, a Renault 4L, a VW Beetle and a BMW-Isetta.

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Architect Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car recreated by Foster in 2010

A surprise display was the Minissima concept designed by British designer William Towns, and which is now owned by American collector Phillip Sarofim (who also owns the Lancia Stratos Zero and the Ford Pierson Brothers Coupe, an example of very early hot rodding of cars).

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Two amazing Bertone cars: the Franco Scaglione-designed Alfa B.A.T. 7 and the astounding Lancia Stratos HF Zero by design legend Marcello Gandini

One of the stars of the exposition is the bright red Ferrari 250 GTO of Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason, who has owned the car for more than 40 years now. The other very brightly coloured car is the yellow Pegaso Z-102, as a representation of Spanish haute couture automobile.

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When GM dominated design: two of the three Firebirds, III and II

In fact, architectural drawings of factories such as that of the Ford plant by architect Albert Kahn, as well as designs of houses with garages by Le Corbusier, and even Norman Foster, complemented photography from the likes of Jacques Henri Lartigue and paintings by Frederick Gordon Crosby.

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Marcello Gandini's Lancia Stratos HF Zero, still futuristic half a century later

Unlike any other single invention, the automobile has completely transformed the urban and rural landscape of our planet and in turn our lifestyle, and this was well explained through this exhibition, as was the very wide palette of the automobile through more than 130 years of technical and design progress.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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