Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles

I recently had the pleasure of getting to visit the Frist Center here in Nashville for a very unique exhibit. Here is an excerpt from the Frist website:

Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles is an exhibition of Art Deco automobiles from some of the most renowned car collections in the United States.
Inspired by the Frist Center’s historic Art Deco building, this exhibition features spectacular automobiles and motorcycles from the 1930s and ‘40s that exemplify the classic elegance, luxurious materials, and iconography of motion that characterizes vehicles influenced by the Art Deco style.

The 'Art Deco' era is one that I never really learned a lot about in school. It is a term that we have all heard in conversation and experienced in life, but is rarely defined. Just so we are on the same page, here is the definition: 

Art Deco - noun  |  An influential visual arts design style which first appeared in France in the 1920s. It flourished internationally in the 1930s and 40s before its popularity waned after World War II. Art Deco style combines traditional craft motifs with Machine Age imagery and materials. The style is often characterized by rich colors, bold geometric shapes, and lavish ornamentation.

I have stayed in Art Deco hotels and seen periodicals and art from that time period, but this display of machines from that era really brought everything together for me. The art from the period references machines and industrial progress, but actually seeing the machines from those creators really knits the genre together. After all, it was the machines and industry that inspired the art.

These innovators not only tried to design machines with technological advances, but they did so with an eye towards style which was largely lost after that time. Each car came from the same era, but each silhouette, stance, and presence is unique, unlike autos today. So many of these manufacturers went out of business due to the Depression and other economic forces, such as World War II.  The designers made some of the first 'automatic' transmissions, sport chassis, and streamlined forms that the auto world had seen up to that point in history. 

So many of these autos are unique in that they are the only surviving one of their kind. All were hand-crafted and designed by machinists who were artists as well as mechanics. You can see this in their paint hues, ornamentation, and bold styling. They were statement pieces that celebrated the progress of technology and design.

The photos above are only a sampling of my personal favorites from the exhibit, and should really just be an encouragement to go see it for yourself! Sensuous Steel was really a one-of-a-kind exhibit that you will not see anywhere else. I thank the Frist Center for taking the time working out the logistics to make such an event like this possible :)

 - Hans