Sneak-Peek: The Art Of Autos At The Frist

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts rolls out its new exhibit “Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles” this week. Organized by guest curator Ken Gross, the exhibit showcases automobiles and motorcycles from the 1930’s and 1940’s on loan from some of the world’s most renowned collections.

The Art Deco movement thrived between the two world wars. It combined industrial materials and ornate designs. The automobiles on display from this era feature smooth curves, sharp edges, intricate grillwork, luxurious upholstery, and bold paint.

Each car has a story behind it. For instance, André Dubonnet, aperitif baron of France and amateur racing driver named his 1938 Hispano-Suiza “Xenia,” in memory of his first wife.

Of the five hand-built Silver Arrows, only three exist today. The Silver Arrow toured serval auto shows, notably winning at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLNFreddie McEvoy, an Australian member of the 1936 British Olympic bobsled team first owned this car. Repeating tear drop shapes give the illusion of speed and motion while the car is at rest. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLN  Very few Speedway Series cars like this one were built . In fact, the owner searched high and low to find this model abandoned in a barn in nearly unrecognizable condition. It is the only known survivor of its kind. Nina Cardona/ WPLNThis car once belonged to architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He said the car was becoming to his eyes. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLNThe French government commissioned this car for the 1939 Paris Auto Salon, to promote French automobile sales abroad. This luxury car features unconventional parallel doors, which open out and slide backwards. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLNThe Thunderbolt was built to be Chrysler's car of the future. However, the future brought with it WWII and the production of the car ended abruptly. Of the five built, only four exist today. The car features hidden headlights and a disappearing metal top. Credit:Nina Cardona/WPLNMohammed Reza Pahlavi, Prince of Persia and future Shah of Iran owned this car. The nation of France gave the car to him as a lavish wedding present when he married Egypt’s Princess Fawzia. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLNLike its name and emblem suggest, the car was designed with the qualities of a beetle in mind, producing a round, hard-body. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLNUnorthodox for its time, the Stout Scarab included rearrangeable seats, an interior table, and wicker woven headlining. The Scarab could be considered one of the first mini-vans on the market. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLNThe interior is elephant hide leather, complimented by a finished wood dashboard and steering wheel rim. Few Superprofile coupes were built, and while one original survives in the Netherlands, the one on display at the Frist is a re-creation. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLNTwo-tone paint, distinctively curved fenders, and pinstripes distinguish Indian motorcycles. Host Jay Leno owns such an Indian and says they were the best machines of their day. Credit: Nina Cardona/ WPLN

The exhibit will be on view at the Frist from June 14th through September 15.

Executive Director Susan Edwards says “Sensuous Steel” is a good fit for the Frist, which is an old Art Deco post office. In fact, Edwards says the Frist has been looking for nine years for an Art Deco exhibit to highlight the museum’s own architecture.

The Frist moved the cars in last week. Here’s a video of the cars in motion:

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