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Art-schmart; The Allure of the Automobile Compels You!

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On: Fri, Jun 17, 2011 at 4:02PM | By: Andrew W Davis

Art-schmart; The Allure of the Automobile Compels You!

Though the “grownup” version of Merriam-Webster.com offers a definition of the word “allure,” it’s their kid-oriented “Word Central” that nails it: “allure (verb): to try to attract or influence by offering what seems to be a benefit or pleasure; (noun): power of attraction.”

And when it comes to the “pull” anyone conscious will feel from these automobiles, a truer word has never been selected than that one when used in the title for the Portland Art Museum's “The Allure of the Automobile," a gathering of over a dozen of the finest sheetmetal sirens ever produced that you can enjoy from now until Sept. 11.

[I know I should have led with “The Allure of the Automobile” and not “Portland Art Museum” if I wanted to keep your interest, but if you stick with me, I promise it'll have been worth it.]

I don’t know about you, but 98 percent of stuff called “art” looks to me like refrigerator-door rejects blown up in size and slapped with a gazillion-dollar price tag. The difference? While most lay people stare and nod at the average piece of “art” and feel nothing, even serious “Art People” can’t deny that seeing Steve McQueen’s ‘57 Jaguar XK-SS Roadster gives them tingles in their funny bits.

I shall now dedicate the following paragraph to those people—which the rest of you can skip—because the museum took the time to torture these words until only the artsy-fartsy can understand them (and ruin something beautiful to the rest of us with unnecessary drivel. Skip now!):
“The Allure of the Automobile is the first exhibition to consider the stylistic development of cars in the context of prominent design movements such as Art Moderne and Postwar Modernity. Visitors will learn about the contrasts between European and American design, the influence of decorative arts, and the significant changes in automotive styling and engineering before and after World War II.”

[You back? Good.] What Mr. Snooty-Wetblanket is trying to say is that there have been some DAMN sexy bits of automotive confection mixed in with all the production-iron oatmeal over the years, and if you have someone who knows what the hell they’re doing—say, Ken Gross, the former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and “guest curator” of this exhibition—and owners who will let them do it, you can create a collection that will get the bluest of bloods and collars together in a building to stare at something they can finally agree upon as “art,” full-stop.

Speaking of the Petersen, they’re the ones bringing McQueen’s Jaguar to the party. Other blue-chip collections represented in the exhibition are the Blackhawk Collection (1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow), Collier Collection (1953 Porsche 550 Prototype), Mullin Automotive Museum Foundation (1937 Hispano Suiza H-6C “Xenia” Coupe), and LeMay Family Collection (1948 Tucker Model 48 Torpedo).

Major carmakers are there as well, including America’s own GM Heritage Center (1959 Corvette Sting Ray concept/racer) and Germany’s Mercedes-Benz Museum (1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR Roadster).

“Private” owners have handed their babies over to the museum as well, and the rarity and quality of their offerings is just as jaw-dropping as those put forth by the nonprofits, museums, and manufacturers I’ve mentioned.

We’re talking all the 1930’s finest, including a 1931 Duesenberg SJ Derham Convertible Sedan, 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS “Teardrop” Coupe, 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900B Touring Berlinetta, and—my personal favorite—1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster.

A 1930 Bentley Speed Six Gurney Nutting Coupe, 1954 Dodge Firearrow III dream car, 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Competition Berlinetta, and 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato Coupe round out the roster, each car an exhibition unto itself.

[Visit http://specialexhibitions.portlandartmuseum.org/allure/multimedia/ for images of them all.]

But maybe you’re not into the finest the world of autodom has to offer, and/or you refuse to “pay to see cars ‘cause I see cars for free every day.” Well, despicable heathen, you can partake of the museum’s “Cars in the Park” feature instead.

Every Saturday during the exhibition’s run (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) you can “Take a stroll along Park Avenue where local car enthusiasts will show off their vehicles all summer long” or, put another way, “Go down the block to see real cars owned by real workin’-class Joes for free.”

Here the classifications are far less specific, with days labeled “All Chevrolet,” “Muscle Cars,” “Rod and Custom,” and the like, with the “exhibition space” being “guest-curated” by whoever shows up on the right day with a car in the correct category, I assume.

So, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to go to Oregon, a “cultural event” to which you can take a current (or prospective) mate or just want to view many of the finest automobiles the world—then and now—can offer, all in one place in a once-in-a-forever-caliber “dream” collection, this is it.

Seriously, look it’s a win-win. It’s a car show AND an art show, a car museum/art gallery all-in-one. This kind of combo will never, EVER come again in your lifetime—or at least not soon enough to get your other half to shut up about “never being taken anywhere nice” before you decide to actually do them harm...

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