Driven to Beauty, Driven to Distraction

‘Automania,’ at the Museum of Modern Art in New York


“The relationship between society (automobile culture) and the art world (culture culture) has traveled in both directions. Remove the text from a 1934 Shell Oil advertising poster that’s in the show, and you’d swear it was a Léger print.”

“The French cultural critic Roland Barthes saw the issue of equivalence in a similar, though even more exalted way. He wrote in 1955 that the automobile is “almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.”

“Even as those beautiful machines in the garden enhance its appearance, they threaten its existence.”

The significance behind this exhibit was that these cars from different time periods were displayed as sculptures in the gardens to emphasize that the structure and the form of car design is not so different from other art forms. The cars from each period shaped an era of design like the art and furniture did at the time, and why classic cars retain their popularity. They are like mobile time capsules of the past.

The vehicles were also meant to coexist with the wildlife it is presented with, but the practice of manufacturing these objects destroys the life with the unsustainable practices care manufacturers abide by.