MOMA Show 1953

MOMA Show 1953

In the Fall of 1953, the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an uncharacteristic exhibition of automobiles as art – the second ever, anywhere –  a show which included an Arnolt-MG.  The catalog notes, “The ten cars included are post-war models designed for production in series; none of them is custom-built or experimental. Only those automobiles were considered which met standard safety and performance requirements, but they were all selected, as were those in the first exhibition, primarily for their excellence as works of art.”

Organized and with an essay by MOMA’s highly-respected new Curator of Architecture and Design, Arthur Drexler, with the technical assistance of John Wheelock Freeman, the exhibition was mounted in the museum’s open central garden.  Considering the practical difficulties in gathering ten remarkable cars in one place, it is startling that the show ran for only two-and-a-half weeks from September 15th to October 4, 1952.  It was an important exhibition with outstanding cars by any measure, but since they were largely European designs and fairly expensive, the chosen cars were seldom to be found being driven on American roads – other than the Studebaker.  Drexler’s essay is long on artistic theory, but short on practicality.

Esquire, the magazine for men (June, 1954) illustrates the 10 cars in the MOMA garden and provides comments by American designer Raymond Loewy, notes described by the editor as “characterizations rather than critiques: a word in the great debate of the Ideal”.  Loewy wrote, “Bertone MG, 1952.  In this model, the beloved roadster has been equipped with Italian coachwork, providing protection and space favored by U.S. family-type cars.  The familiar MG grille is retained, with the front bumper not too well integrated with the over-all design.  The front-fender silhouette seems swollen, but this is counterbalanced by admirable details of the windshield set, as well as the healthy “kicked-in” look of the rear, which compactly suggests forward motion.  Wheels, flush with body, are a clean, racy feature.”

These cars were exhibited:

Cunningham C-4 (USA, coachwork by Carrozeria Alfredo Vignale, Turin, Italy)

Lancia Aurelia GT (Italy, coachwork by Carrozeria Pinin Farina, Turin, Italy)

Aston Martin DB2 (Great Britain, coachwork by Aston Martin )

Studebaker Commander Starliner coupe (USA, coachwork by Studebaker, designed by Raymond Loewy Associates, USA)

Ford Comète (France, coachwork by Facel-Metallon, based on a custom design by Stabilimenti Farina, Turin, Italy))

Simca Model 8 (France, choachwork by Facel-Metallon, Paris, France )

MG Model TD [Actually, Arnolt-MG]  (Great Britain and USA, coachwork by Carrozeria G. Bertone, Turin, Italy for S. H. Arnolt, Warsaw, Indiana)

Nash-Healey (USA/Great Britain, coachwork by Carrozeria Pinin Farina, Turin, Italy)

Siate Daina 1400 (Italy, coachwork by Societa Anonima Stabilimenti Farina, Turin, Italy)

Porsche 1500 Super (Germany, coachwork by Karroserie Reutter, Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany)

A quick perusal of the thin but large-format catalog (it can be viewed here: reveals the organizers’ basic themes: the considerable attraction of the fast-back design, and a bias towards Italo-centric design – fully half the exhibited cars are fast-backs, and six are by or are based on Italian designs.  Only one car, the Studebaker, is a bona-fide American design.