Published: September 25, 2007
Transportation meets art in “The Motorcycle, Italian Style: Riding the Curves with MV Agusta” at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
This vintage motorcycle exhibition from the Gary and Connie Kohs collection traces the MV Agusta brand from its World War II inception to today. More than 30 bikes, most from the classic era (1945‱980), will be on display throughout the Bendel Mansion Museum Galleries until January 6.
This “edgier” exhibition is the first motorcycle show the museum has ever displayed. “We’ve always found our audience to be very interested in transportation and design issues,” said curator of collections Rosa Portell. “It offers us a perfect opportunity to underscore the principle that art can be found not only in the traditional media, the kind that hangs in museums, but in these beautiful machines which are, themselves, art works.”
Some people may remember the famous Guggenheim exhibition in 1998, which surveyed the span of some 130 years between the earliest model motorcycle and the 1998 Augusta MV F4. The Stamford Museum exhibition, however, is also a nod to the Museum of Modern Art’s “Machine Art” show organized by Philip Johnson, architect, collector and former staff member, in the spring of 1934, according to Portell. That influential exhibition, she said, presented some of the issues related to the aesthetic merit of industrially made objects created without artistic intention. “While we salute the Guggenheim show, we wanted to comment as well on ‘machine as art,'” said Portell.
“Museums take objects and interpret them for the public. Hopefully, we’ll help people see things that they may not have thought about,” Portell said. In this show, isolated parts of the machines will be displayed on pedestals as objects of beauty.
Tots 2 to 4 years old will be able to ride toy bikes in a special section in the Bendel Mansion Great Hall, as they learn about safety on two-wheeled vehicles.
As World War II came to a close in Italy, the Agusta family saw the opportunity to create a new machine that would provide inexpensive and reliable transportation to a country ravaged by war.
MV Agusta motorcycles had barely hit the market when one of them was driven into first place in a modest race. From 1956 to 1976, MV Agusta would win more than 3,000 international races, becoming the most successful brand in the history of the sport.
By the mid-1960s, motorcycles began to represent a certain nonconformism. Motorcycle-riding itself, with its individualistic, in-your-face ruggedness, became coded speech for counterculture, with an ethos and worldview of its own.
“If it were a machine strictly for practical purposes, it would have long ago disappeared,” Portell said. “If it was strictly a way to get from point A to point B, there are ways that are more practical than on the back of a motorcycle. Riding a motorcycle is a lot more than a matter of transportation. It’s about image and the experience of the open road.”
In recent years, some motorcycles have evolved into luxury objects and status symbols with their spectacular esthetic qualities. Sometimes priced higher than many an automobile, their machines’ craftsmanship, materials, looks and limited production numbers are meant to identify their riders as people of means and taste set apart from the crowd.
Stamford Museum & Nature Center is at 39 Scofieldtown Road. For information, www.stamfordmuseum.org or 203-322-1646.
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