by John JervisJan 07, 2020
The idea of the “American” automobile is sure to whip up different images in different heads. However, one of the most common and quintessential ones among those would be the image of the muscle car, so effortlessly American in its entirety, its being and its style. Through numerous vehicle classes and ages, the Muscle’s roaring pistons have made the car a staple and synonymous with any academic foray into car culture in the States.
Detroit, in particular, aptly named “Motor City”, has now been home to some of the most influential auto innovations (and innovators) over the years, and its streets bona fide destinations for motor enthusiasts. An odyssey of roaring muscle cars, burning rubber, futuristic concept cars, and sleek, sporty racer cars have outlined the sizeable body of work and the immense contribution that Detroit designers have had in over seven decades spanning from 1950 till 2020, on American car culture. And that is what the latest exhibition hosted by the Detroit Institute of Arts sets out to celebrate: the “Detroit Style”, through paper, in clay, and in metal.
The exhibition brings together 12 coupes and sedans designed across the 70 year period between 1950 and the present day, highlighting the artistry and influence of Detroit’s immense automobile design talent, and their significant achievements in style and technology. The collection of 12 cars showcased spans not only across styles, but is also a unique combination of experimental show cars, conceptual creations for display as art, and iconic models produced and sold to the mass markets. Through hitherto unseen design drawings, archival photographs, and actual displays, the exhibition seeks to take patrons and their imaginations through “the creative and innovative processes that bring a vehicle from the drawing board to the street". Apart from these, the exhibition hosts a selection of paintings and a sculpture that evoke a conversation between American art and its auto-culture during the same seventy year span.
A special highlight of the exhibition is the 1958 General motors Firebird III, pictured above, and designed as an experiment in the futuristic space age design aesthetic that dominated American pop culture during the time. The design with towering fins also remarkably features one of the earliest versions of autonomous driving technology.
"The automotive industry and the city of Detroit are synonymous with one another, so it seems only fitting that the DIA be the museum to showcase the rich history of car design in the city,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons. “This exhibition will showcase the similarities between the art of car design and the creative process sculptors of the past used to create their masterpieces. Just like sculptors, they start with drawings and preliminary sketches, then produce clay models and from there, “manufacture” the final product".
Two iconic automobiles also find a special place in DIA’s exhibition, with Detroit Style marking the first time these vehicles have been inside the museum since 1983. The 1970 Plymouth Barracuda is a legendary Detroit pony car that captured the world’s imagination and still defines the “attitude and prowess” of the American automobile. In contrast, already a future classic, the 2017 Ford GT supercar puts on fine display how far automobile design has come, showing how designers have reinterpreted the past with new materials and technology to shape visions of the future.
Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020, is currently on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts until June 27, 2021.