Art/Design

See the imprint of Car Culture on Art at MoMA

This comprehensive look at the history of the vehicle is not to be missed.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Oct 17, 2021

The imprint of car culture on art is currently being examined in the Museum of Modern Art’s returning Automania exhibit. The museum is once again hosting the two-part exhibition, which “addresses the conflicted feelings—compulsion, fixation, desire, and rage—that developed in response to cars and car culture in the 20th century. Examining automobiles as both modern industrial products and style icons, it also explores their adverse impact on roads and streets, public health, and the planet’s ecosystems.”

 

The exhibition

It’s difficult for us to picture a world without automobiles, but there was a time when we did not have them. Since the invention of the vehicle over a century ago, everything has altered to fit this new mode of transportation, from design to architecture, dining to technology, and commerce to fashion. The fascinating study Automania, which dissects the car and the obsession that has grown around it, is being brought back to New York’s Museum of Modern Art for a second run.

 

The exhibition, which initially debuted in 2020, spans two different portions of the museum. MoMA includes a collection of artwork that highlights the cultural history of the vehicle on the third floor galleries, ranging from early concept sketches to silkscreen prints made by none other than Andy Warhol, as well as an engine exhibited as sculpture.

 

The exhibition’s focus is on the stunning automobiles on view, which include a restored Volkswagen Type 1 sedan (Beetle), a Ferrari Formula 1 racing car, a Jeep M-38A1 Utility Truck built for the US Army during WWII, and finally the Smart Car.

 

The show continues outside in the Sculpture Garden of the museum, where a number of the automobiles are displayed against the backdrop of MoMA’s colossal artwork.

 

What is Automania?

The title Automania is a reference to Halas and Batchelor’s Oscar-nominated animation from 1964, which looked at the car’s underlying dualism—the automobile and the mania around it. At its most basic level, it represents a significant improvement over ancient modes of transportation such as horse and carriage. It is also a driver for innovation and design, and it has unquestionably become a status symbol.

 

According to the museum’s website: “Automania brings together cars and car parts, architectural models, films, photographs, posters, paintings, and sculptures, ranging from Lily Reich’s 1930s designs for a tubular steel car seat to Andy Warhol’s Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times.”

 

The history of cars is quite important, and the imprint they had on the subsequent culture is unparalleled. With the rise of ridesharing applications, the effort to replace oil with electricity, and the promise of self-driving cars, it’s uncertain what the automobile will look like in 100 years and what role it will play.

 

Check out the exhibition at MoMA from now until January 2. Buy tickets to MoMA and Automania through moma.org.

 

Photo via MoMA