New York City’s esteemed Museum of Modern Art’s newest exhibit has a Volkswagen Type 1, a Cisitalia, an E-Type, a Citroën DS, a 1967 911, a Willys Jeep, a Smart Fortwo, an original Fiat 500, and one of Alain Prost’s F1 cars. Eurocentric, much, MoMA?
Now, I should preface this by saying that MoMA is the only cultural institution in New York City I pay a yearly fee to help support, because I like MoMA and I like modern art and I like the member previews that get you away from the hordes of tourists and because rich people (not me) seem happy to support this great city’s cultural institutions, many of which, unlike MoMA, are nominally free. Still, when I caught wind of this new exhibit — called Automania, which opened Sunday — I knew from the get-go that it would be bad.
This is not because the cars are bad — MoMA’s Cisitalia 202 GT is among the most beautiful cars I’ve ever seen in person; the Type 1 is the highest or second-highest made car ever depending on how you count; and the E-Type is, well, the E-Type — it’s more because the cars are boring, the equivalent of MoMA putting Starry Night, a Picasso, and a Jackson Pollock in a room and calling it Art Mania, and pretending like they’ve done something new.
Because the truth is that MoMA barely tried; this collection is classic rock, and I like “Stairway To Heaven” as much as the next person but I’ve already heard it ten million times. A 1967 911? I’m surprised MoMA doesn’t have a C3 and a DeLorean as well.
Well, they might, except for a focus on European cars that dates to MoMA’s first car show, in 1951, a show which “reflected the organizers’ belief that ‘in Europe, where a car is a luxury rather than a necessity, design still has some of the qualities of a fine art.’” First of all: I’m not even sure that was true then, as say what you will about tailfins but they were, at the time, a genuine attempt to look good. Also, in 1951, Asian automakers weren’t the force that they are today, but, judging by this exhibit, it’s unclear if, today, MoMA curators are aware that anything has changed.
I mean, why not an LFA? Why not a Ford GT40? Why not a first-generation Corvair? Why not a Cord 812? Why not an Eldorado? Why not a Miata? Why not a ... Model X? Or why not none of those and instead an entire thing about the good kei cars? I’m not sure why the Smart Fortwo is in MoMA’s collection, but I don’t think MoMA knows either.
The Cisitalia 202 GT can stay, though. What a car! Please feel free to sell the rest, MoMA. You know how to reach me if you need any help in picking replacements, if membership renewal emails are any indication. I mean, I enjoyed the exhibit for what it was when I went on Saturday — if you’re in the New York area it isn’t a terrible way to spend 30 minutes — but let’s actually try next time, MoMA, like I know you are capable of. Because this is on the verge of being insulting. Thanks!