The vehicles for these exhibitions were loaned to the museum by collectors or manufacturers. But in 1972, MoMA began adding automobiles to its holdings as design objects – the first American art museum to recognize the automobile as such. “Automania” will display cars from the permanent collection, indoors throughout the show, as well as outdoors in the sculpture garden during the summer months, including a 1948 Cisitalia 202 GT, the museum’s first automobile acquisition.
“There is a lot of debate and research and a lengthy process through which a car finally enters the collection,” says Kinchin. “But we are definitely thinking about what innovation (artistic, technological, social) it shows, what moment it really signals.” Galloway adds that the collection demonstrates an obvious European bias, with a Jeep being the only national car included. “I’m not a nationalist, but at the same time there aren’t enough damn American cars out there.”
“Automania” recontextualizes MoMA’s automotive acquisitions in light of contemporary understandings, showing them, as Galloway puts it, “immensely pleasurable things to look at” while taking them off the pedestal and examining how they affected culture and art.
The show takes its name from a 1963 Academy Award-nominated dystopian animated short, Automania 2000, that he presents in the exhibition. Created by husband and wife team John Halas and Joy Batchelor (famous for their adaptation of George Orwell’s Farm), heralds a future in which ever-grandiose cars will invade civilization. The film is set alongside drawings, paintings, and photographs by well-known artists, including a lithograph of an early car driver terrorizing the streets of Paris by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; Andy Warhol’s silkscreen of a car accident from his Death and Disaster series; the hood of a car painted with gynocentric images by Judy Chicago; and photos of Ford’s massive River Rouge production facility by Margaret Bourke-White. It also highlights lesser-known works, such as woven automotive upholstery samples by Anni Albers and designs for a steel folding car seat by Lilly Reich, both prominent Bauhaus designers of the 1930s.
“Women have been featured in these stories from the beginning,” says Kinchin. “That was something we wanted to clarify.”
The period advertisements, some included in the catalog and others in the show itself, state a studied criticism. A 1914 Bosch spark plug poster by German artist Lucian Bernhard demonstrates, according to Kinchin, “that sense of combustion energy, against all odds, beating electric vehicles” in the early automotive era. An advertisement for tetrahedral lead in gasoline promoted an additive that was “completely unnecessary,” Galloway says, “and an ecological disaster.”