Norman Foster’s ‘Motion. Autos, Art, Architecture’ at the Guggenheim is a requiem for the age of combustion

Norman Foster's thought-provoking 'Motion. Autos, Art, Architecture' at the Guggenheim Bilbao looks at the pioneers of automobile design in the context of art, architecture and critical theory, provoking timely discussions as we edge towards the post-combustion age
Dymaxion #4, 2010, based on #1-3 (1933’34) by Buckminster Fuller and Starling Burgess. Image curtesy of Normal Foster Foundation

The imagined future of the automobile was once exhilarating. It involved Jean Bugatti’s Type 57SC Atlantic, conceived in 1936 and to this day a work of art on wheels. The future was Wifredo Ricart’s 1952 Pegaso Z-102 Cúpula and Franco Scaglione’s 1954 Alfa Romeo BAT Car 7 for Bertone. Most daring of all, the future could have belonged to a world where the architect and theorist Buckminster Fuller, together with yacht designer Starling Burgess, imagined the painfully cool and to this day avant-garde 1933 Dymaxion.

These motor cars explore inventive aerodynamic shapes, they are nautical-informed feline beauties, have curvaceous, luxurious, customised bodies, and are inspired by science and the space age and rockets. They represent extraordinary ingenuity; many are lyrical designs, immersed in meaning. Their designers were looking to the future, and the automobile’s prospect was bright and exciting, bursting with optimism.

Crucially, all this creative work didn’t happen in car design studio isolation. Rather, automobile design lived within an expansive narrative arc that involved art and architecture, urbanism, critical theory, philosophy and intellectual discourse. The car was seen as a vehicle for progress, not just for profit.

Norman Foster's 'Motion. Autos, Art, Architecture' at the Guggenheim Bilbao looks at the pioneers of automobile design in the context of art and architecture and more, provoking timely discussions as we edge towards the post-combustion age
Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center (1956), photographed by Ezra Stoller. Curtesy of General Motors

‘Motion. Autos, Art, Architecture’ (8 April to 18 September 2022) firmly places the automobile in this context. And by doing so, is a timely show to enliven discussions around the future of motor cars as we edge towards the post-combustion age. Or at least I hopes so. Curated by the architect Norman Foster at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the exhibition is a spirited celebration of the artistic dimension of the automobile — visually and culturally linking it to parallel worlds of painting and sculpture, architecture, photography and film. And it is a thoroughly beautiful show.

See why Norman Foster believes looking at the work and ideas of these visionary creatives will help navigate a better future. Read my full article here.

Ed Ruscha “Standard Station” (1966), seven‑colour screenprintEd Ruscha

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