Automotive Works of Art. Grand Basel, a new high-end event whose aim is to ‘present exceptional cars in the contexts of art, design, architecture and lifestyle,’ took place on 6-9 September at Messe Basel in Switzerland, the first of three scheduled exhibitions on a global tour. The show’s advisory board of experts – comprising leading cultural and design authorities, architects and artists – curated the exhibits, including six frames that showcased their personal interpretations of automotive culture.
Two of these in particular caught our eye for gravitating to opposite extremes of the classic car spectrum. One was by head of the advisory board, Professor Paolo Tumminelli, who is director of the Goodbrands Institute, design critic and professor of Cultural Sciences at Cologne University of Applied Sciences. In his curated frame, Professor Tumminelli presented a derelict 38-year-old Fiat Panda as an honest representation of the automobile in its most pure form as a user-friendly tool, the iconic design by Giorgetto Giugiaro being unapologetically simple in the tradition of practical compact cars such as the Citroen 2CV and Renault 4.
“The Panda is tireless, unpretentious, immediate, uncomplicated: a T-shirt on wheels, pure mobility,’ he said. ‘While not beautiful in the classical sense and easy to overlook as a masterpiece of rational architecture, the Panda irrevocably completes the development of the popular automobile which began in 1908 with the Ford T.
“The Panda was built, bought, used, consumed and abused – and the example on display at Grand Basel exemplified its huge cultural impact in this respect. Furthermore, its design concept is now perhaps more topical than ever: a role model of the ecologically and economically sensible, with the principles for a truly sustainable automobile of the future.”
That contrasted starkly with the choice of artist Sylvie Fleury, who explores consumer culture in her work and its relation towards gender and politics. American cars are also a passion of Fleury, and the centrepiece of her display was a 1961 Lincoln Continental. And not just any Lincoln Continental – this one was Pablo Picasso’s last personal car.
“His white Lincoln Continental, a huge, powerful machine, shows an interface between art and design,” said Fleury. “Picasso was a true car connoisseur, and this Lincoln is still owned by his family. I parked the car in my frame like it was a sculpture, and the masculine design is played off against my two-metre tall chromed shark tooth artwork, which harks back to a time when it was fashionable for women to wear a real shark tooth as a necklace pendant.” Another Ford on display came from rather closer to home, though the transatlantic influence was still strong. Stephen Bayley, a highly regarded author, critic, columnist, broadcaster, consultant and the founding director of the London Design Museum, chose for his frame a 1962 Ford Consul Capri.
“The idea of what became the Ford Capri entered the mind of Ford of Britain’s designers in 1956, but as a slightly different car,” he explained. “This was an anguished year: the calamity of Suez marked the final end of the fading British Imperium. Project Sunbird was established to give the designers something to dream about, and they dreamt about America. American prosperity offered an almost pornographic vista of possibilities.
“The result was one of the strangest mass-produced cars ever. Designer Colin Neale took styling cues from the Ford Galaxie, the Fairlane Skyliner and the Mercury Monterey. The huge rear deck is reminiscent of the ’1961 Lincoln. Neale said the Capri was “sculpture in sheet metal.” And its formal complexity made it ruinously expensive to manufacture. “It was the first popular car to wear a ‘GT’ badge, the eighteenth century Grand Tour having been the historical origins of Anglo-Continental voyeurism. And while there was nothing very much technically distinguished about the Capri, it was the first popular British car to use a Weber carburettor, establishing a vicarious connection to Ferrari and Maserati.
Despite so much semantic promise, it was a sales calamity. A mere 19,421 were made. It is not only one of the strangest, but one of the rarest Fords. Dreams, you see, are soon dispersed.”
Following its premiere in Basel, further shows in other parts of the world are being planned with Miami Beach scheduled for 22-24 February 2019, and Hong Kong in May 2019.