The Daily Heller: Auto Erotica

Posted inDesign Destinations
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MoMA's current exhibition Automania is a wonderful way to say farewell to the lockdown pandemic year. Though the paradox is that rather than hitting the open road, MoMA's survey of car culture is sitting statically in its gallery and sculpture garden. Nonetheless, nothing can be more auto erotic than to be among some of the best-designed machines in the world, alongside the graphics, paintings and sculpture created to advertise, mythologize and celebrate them.

Organized by former MoMA curator for design and architecture Juliet Kinchin, with collection specialist Paul Galloway and curatorial assistant Andrew Gardner, Automania answers the question posed in the catalog they authored/edited: "What to call the newfangled, self-propelled contraptions that began to appear in the industrialized centers around the world in the 1890s?" It is difficult to believe it has only been 130 years since the horseless carriage was looking for a name that would stick: "Among [the contenders] 'carlock,' 'electromobile,' 'autocar,' 'automotor' … 'auto-locomotors,' 'polycycle' and 'autobaine.'" By 1895 the United States used the French word automobile; it was France that actually led the world in the nascent car business.

There are few consumables that have been designed since their inception to capture every sense and sensibility that humans have more than the car. It is the most practical yet mythic of inventions. It is machine and art. It is the product of genius and object of desire. Yet it is also a tool, and as such promotes good and destroys worlds. Automania is more than the sum of its parts—part auto expo, part showroom, part exhibition, part celebration. It is a look at one of the world's most essential inventions through the lens of design, and it is worth leaving home for.

The cars in the sculpture garden are on view through Oct. 11. The gallery portion of the exhibition remains on view through Jan. 2.

Postcard. Unknown photographer. c. 1905.
Poster for Bil Aktiebolaget Car Company. Designer: Akseli Gallen-Kallela. 1907.
Poster for Bosch spark plugs. Designer: Lucian Bernhard. 1914.
Advertising image for Mercedes-Benz 8/38 PS Roadster in front of Twin House designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. 1927.
Poster for BP Ethyl Anti-Knock Controls Horse-Power. Designer: E. Mcknight Kauffer. 1933.
Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan 1938 (this one from 1959).
Fiat 500F City Car, 1957 (this one from 1968).
Cisitalia 202 GT Car, 1946 (this one from 1948).
All photos from Automania (MoMA).