Sunday, August 9, 2015

Futuristic presents from the past: West Palm Beach, Florida's fantastic mid-century transportation exhibit

In the 1950s, American car makers were on top of the world and autos couldn't be too heavy, aggressive-looking or laden with chrome. A vehicle was a status symbol and the more it looked like a rocket ship headed for Mars, the more we Americans liked it. Car makers would create fantastic concept vehicles with big fins, bubble tops and huge, jet-like dual exhaust pipes to test the waters of potential car buyers. If a dramatic chrome bumper treatment was a big hit, maybe next year's Buick Roadmaster would feature it. Armies of incredibly talented engineers, designers and artists put these one-of-a-kind vehicles on the auto show floor under strict top secret conditions. So top secret, in fact, that most of the brilliant drawings and models were destroyed, lest the competition catch wind of their precious ideas. Luckily for car buffs, transportation historians and mid-century hipster fans, a Mr. Frederic Sharf began preserving these items years ago and amassed an amazing collection of thousands of drawings and artifacts. West Palm Beach, Florida's Norton Museum of Art is currently exhibiting a fraction of of these pieces called "Going Places" and it features not just cars, but also planes, trains and even a hybrid car/helicopter or two, all with a tomorrow is here today theme.

The craftsmanship and technical virtuosity of the artwork is Photoshop shortcuts for these guys. The illustrations are all hand-painted and drawn in a heightened state of super-idealized reality. The future seemed so bright in these pieces, with their unrealistically perfect people and dreamy sophisticated backgrounds. If this is what life could be like in the 1950s, then surely we'd all be wearing jet-packs and driving car-planes by 1965, wouldn't we? A portion of the exhibit also features original advertising illustrations of regular, less showy cars for sale at your local Chevy, Oldsmobile or Ford dealer and again, for something as seemingly mundane as a magazine advertisement, the technique of these artworks is extraordinary. The chrome gleams, the reflections on the finish and tail lights shine and the backgrounds are packed with idealized suburban scenes or sophisticated city folks on the town. I want to be there, I think to myself when I see these.

The show will be up until January 2016, so check it out if you're going to be in South Florida. Don't let the future pass you by.

Oh, and since it's the Norton Museum of Art, I simply couldn't resist adding this.

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