June 08, 2011

"L'Art de l'automobile"

I remember being astonished the first time I met a New Yorker who could not drive. I couldn't believe that an adult really, truly, did not know how to drive a car. My parents loved cars, in fact the first car I was transported in as an infant was a Jaguar XK 140 sports car - lovely to look at but not exactly a family wagon, especially in a damp climate. I couldn't wait to turn sixteen and get my driver's license - my ticket to ride - FREEDOM!

So even though I live in New York and do not actually own a car, I can drive, in fact I like to drive, and I love the style of a really beautiful machine. So the prospect of an entire exhibition devoted to the art of the automobile was a "must see" in Paris.

This is no ordinary car show. It is the crème de la crème comprising seventeen masterpieces of vintage cars from the private collection of Ralph Lauren, on view at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, on the rue de Rivoli. Mr Lauren is known world wide for his sophisticated "country manor" look and for making it almost cool to be preppy. What is probably less well known is that he is a connoisseur of fine automobiles and has an enviable collection of top of the line models. But if you stop and think for a minute there is a natural connection between designing elegant and practical clothes and appreciating polished and powerful machines.

For the next two months the normally staid main floor of this museum next to the Louvre has been transformed into the ultimate car showroom. The central section shows a dozen racing models ranging from a 1933 Bugatti 59 Grand Prix to a 1960 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB, the left side section features four touring models on rotating pedestals and the right side offers a 1996 McLaren F1 LM, an homage to the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours road race. Each of the cars has been meticulously restored, has actually been raced or at least driven and represents a chef d'œuvre in both design and engineering. Many are right hand drive, some are one-seaters, a few have marvelous details like leather straps to hold down the hood or copper wire to fasten the body parts together, one has gull wings and another has a rear fin that looks like a batmobile. Each and every one is a work of art.

Whether you drive a bicycle or a Porsche this is a show that will amaze. Seventeen exquisite examples of design and engineering, each with its own tale of speed and daring and each a testament to the beauty of the machine aesthetic, right next door to the most famous museum in the world. Thank you Mr Lauren!

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