Delahaye

Fast wheels, modernist dreams

The sleek cars and motorcycles in the Portland Art Museum's "Shape of Speed" reflect the swift rise of Modernist design in the 1930s and '40s

The striking black-and-silver 1934 BMW motorbike in the Portland Art Museum lobby sits in front of a digital reader board that intermittently displays an image of one of Monet’s Water Lilies – an apt reminder of the The Shape of Speed’s leitmotif: vehicles can be art.

Certain vehicles. Not Toyota Camrys or Dodge minivans or even split-window ‘Vettes; but these 17 cars and two motorcycles most definitely. The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930-1942 is the latest exhibition in the Portland Art Museum’s design series, guest curated by Ken Gross, former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The show is open now and runs through September 16.

Beauty meets beauty: Monet water lilies and 1934 BMW. Photo: John Foyston

Gross previously curated the Museum’s 2011 exhibition The Allure of the Automobile, which celebrated automobiles as kinetic art. This never-before seen collection celebrates Modernism as expressed by the streamline dreams of the 1930s, when the ever more slippery shapes of airplanes influenced everything from architecture to steam locomotives, radios and automobiles; even Raymond Loewy’s gorgeous – and it could be said – essentially pointless chrome teardrop of a pencil sharpener. (Not that I wouldn’t feel like Tommy Tomorrow himself if I had one on my desk…)

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