Stickshifts and safetybelts

While some may only consider automobiles a mode of transportation, others consider them a work of art.

While some may only consider automobiles a mode of transportation, others consider them a work of art. For the last month, the Portland Art Museum has been showcasing two car-related exhibitions in what they call “The Allure of the Automobile” and “AutoMagic.”

The machines are displayed not as functioning pieces of metal, but intricate artwork that can also get you from point A to point B. Both exhibits remove the automobile from its “natural habitat.”

The first exhibition, “The Allure of the Automobile,” is currently showing until Sept. 11. Car geeks, artists and families all gather in the same space in order to admire 16 priceless cars. These distinct and truly awe-inspiring pieces were all produced between 1930 and the mid-1960s.

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga. organized the exhibit with guest curator Ken Gross. The exhibit is described as a display that “traces the evolution of the coach built motor car.”

“The Allure of the Automobile” takes the car off the road and into the art gallery. Here, objects that are normally considered everyday are elevated to the level of creative masterpieces. Some may not consider these works “masterpieces,” but they are unarguably products of intense effort and craftsmanship. Their glittering façade is only one layer of these amazing luxury vehicles—some of the pieces are able to reach speeds of over 100 mph.

All of the works are a showcase of post-WWII engineering on the part of automobile manufacturers all over the world. A major theme of the display is the differences between American and foreign cars. Due to industrial competition between countries, most specifically America and fascist Italy and Germany, the style and function of the works are very different.

On display is a small snapshot of automobile history. As viewers walk through the exhibit, one can see how our society views money, power and, of course, beauty. All of the vehicles displayed are luxury and racing vehicles, but as one compares the almost rocket-like design of the 1959 Corvette Sting Ray to the classic look of a 1939 Talbot-Lago, the historical changes in aesthetics are clear.

The craftsmanship and time that went into these vehicles is evident. While many are restored versions of their former selves, most of the pieces are limited edition or custom crafted. One car, the 1957 Jaguar XK-SS Roadster, was formerly owned by movie star Steve McQueen.

The second automobile exhibition currently on display at the PAM is “AutoMagic,” a collection of photographs by Ray K. Metzker, that will be on display in the museum until July 31.

The collection consists entirely of gelatin silver prints, which creates a stark contrast within the photos. As the museum description states, “Metzker treats the automobile as an aesthetic object and a catalyst of social change.”

The subjects—cars, pedestrians, cities and the interactions between these subjects—show more of the human side of the automobile industry, as well as the consumer aspect of the subject. According to the exhibit description, the collection “places the vehicle within a broader social context by exploring the many nuances of auto-influenced urban behavior.” Here, the focus is less on the intricacies of the cars themselves and more on how they shape our lives.

Architecture is also an important theme within Metzker’s work, as the automobile itself has shaped the future of our cities. Without the car, there would be no parking structures, drive-thrus or roads, and Metzker’s work makes this inseparable connection clear.

This collection of over 50 stark and brooding photographs shows the sleekness and artistic merit of the automobile while simultaneously keeping it within the confines of an urban context. The settings of the photographs range from Chicago to Spain to Philadelphia to Munich. All the scenes instill the viewer with one thought—Americans love cars.

From art lovers to car enthusiasts alike, “The Allure of the Automobile” and “AutoMagic” allow for a wonderful look with one of our nation’s biggest obsessions.

The cost of entry into the museum is 12 dollars for students, plus an additional two dollars for a special exhibition ticket to see “The Allure.” The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.  ?