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The Motorcycle: Design ~ Art ~ Desire

Magnetoman

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VOC Member
Someone on another site asked me why the exhibition is in Brisbane. Although no one here asked that question, I'll repeat my answer anyway. Giving the full background would require quite a long essay, so I'll try to be as short as possible while still being accurate.

'The Art of the Motorcycle' that Ultan Guilfoyle and I (Charles Falco) curated for the Guggenheim twenty years earlier set an all-time attendance record for them, and in doing so became by far the most heavily-attended design exhibition of all time, as well as the fifth most heavily attended museum exhibition of any kind. As an aside, although design (a beautiful pen, or table, or motorcycle) and art (a Rodan sculpture or Monet painting) have features in common, there is a difference.

Ultan and I are both connected to the art world beyond having curated that exhibition.[*] For example, Ultan is former Director of the Filmmaking Department of the Guggenheim, and in his subsequent career as an independent filmmaker has made a number of documentaries about art museums, artists, and architects. I've had a twenty-year collaboration with the artist David Hockney, who is one of the world's most famous living artists,[**] and as a result I've given public lectures at the Hermitage, Uffizi, Metropolitan, etc., including the National Gallery of Art in Canberra.

[*] We're also life-long motorcyclists. Ultan rode trials in his youth in Ireland, rebuilt a Norton Commando in his office at the Guggenheim while we were working on 'The Art of the Motorcycle', and is currently assembling a Gold Star Catalina from ~2000 separate parts. I got a Honda 50 when I was 15, have never been without at least one motorcycle since then, and completely rebuilt the 1928 Ariel myself that I rode in the 2018 Cannonball.

[**]In the first episode of the new HBO series 'The Undoing', a scene with Nicole Kidman uses the fact a particular couple owns two Hockney paintings to establish how cultured and spectacularly wealthy they are.

QAGOMA is led by a Director, Chris Saines, who is quite visionary. When he approached us nearly three years ago about doing an exhibition of motorcycle design, both of us already knew it was one of Australia's most significant art museums, and we subsequently learned it has a large fraction of its visitors each year from overseas as well as from across Australia. Although our immediate reaction was neither of us was interested in doing what would be simply an update of 'The Art of the Motorcycle', Chris made clear from the start that he wasn't interested in us doing that, either. Twenty years ago it was revolutionary enough to fill a major art museum with motorcycles, so our approach at that time had to be conservative. Basically, it was ~100 motorcycles in simple chronological order. Today there isn't the same constraint, so our approach could be quite different. And, it is.

Anyway, that's a heavily-condensed overview of how the exhibition came into being in the first place, and why it's in Brisbane. That said, from the start we've intended for it to tour after its run in Brisbane. However, discussions with other locations are on hold until the world gets back to normal.

Since most people reading this won't be able to see it in Brisbane even if Queensland opens its borders soon, the 320-page catalog(ue) we wrote for the exhibition is a worthwhile substitute. It's a heavily-illustrated stand-alone book that looks at the past, present, and future of motorcycles and motorcycle design. For what it's worth, the last I looked, Amazon was taking pre-orders for pre-Christmas delivery at significantly less than it will retail for after publication.
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
The catalog(ue) showed up at QAGOMA exactly three weeks ago, and at the homes of lenders to the exhibition a few days later. However, the book's authors clearly were on the 'low priority' list since our copies only arrived today. But, it was well worth the wait. There's something about the gravitas of a book vs. a pdf on a computer screen.

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For what it's worth, I can't think of any book quite like this one. In addition to over 350 color photographs on high quality paper, there are essays on motorcycle design and culture by an award-winning film director who has been a close observer of these topics for decades, and essays on the technology, history and future of motorcycles by an award-winning physicist and academic who also has been a close observer of these topics for decades. These backgrounds, and the perspectives they result in, are not found in the usual authors of motorcycle books.

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Also, a few Vincent owners make an appearance.

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I honestly can say that if even if I had to pay for this 320-page book I definitely would buy it. However, there's less to that endorsement than meets the eye since I buy every motorcycle book. Tracking shows three boxes of additional copies have cleared processing and are awaiting departure for the U.S. from the Brisbane airport. I know what at least a few people on my Christmas list will be getting this year. They'll be available in most of the world at the end of this month, and in the U.S. in early December.
 

vibrac

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
Someone has certainly soaked some money and time into this project many of the other motorcycle forums have also been given this same thread.
A great pity to happen when most of the world is locked down.
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
A great pity to happen when most of the world is locked down.
The original plan would have had me working on-site right now, rather than remotely, deciding on installation details during the day, and sipping wine in an Airbnb on the beach as the sun set into the Pacific each evening. But, no, covid ruined all that. Well, not all of it. Brisbane ruined the sunset part by being on the wrong coast...
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
If you are an early riser then an orange juice and a sunrise are pretty good too.
We take our granddaughters off their parents' hands for on-line schooling twice a week at 7:15 am. That's roughly 2 hours earlier than any civilized person should have to do anything other than sip coffee. Although it's not quite early enough to see the sunrise, it will be as the days shorten. I'd say I'm looking forward to seeing the sun rise, but that would be a lie, since I'd rather be asleep.
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
I just finished a FaceTime walking tour of the exhibition as it stands today. The first of the three large rooms still has work taking place, but has over 90% of the bikes installed so it's possible to get a very good idea of what it will look like on opening day in less than three weeks. The second room only has the plinths and screens installed (for short clips), but none of the bikes as yet, and the third room is a beehive of activity. All but two of the bikes are in hand, with arrival of the last two imminent.

The exhibition truly looks amazing. I dearly wish I could see it in person. Sigh...
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
It might be worthwhile to provide some context for something that, thanks to covid, I won't be able to attend. With the exception of 'The Art of the Motorcycle' at the Guggenheim twenty-two years ago, a typical "motorcycle show" that most people here would have seen would have involved perhaps a dozen or so volunteers from a club to distribute posters and emails ahead of time, and tell lenders where to place their bikes, direct traffic, and sell tickets.

In contrast, 'The Motorcycle: Design ~ Art ~ Desire' has had at least 50 skilled professional curators, designers, conservators, registrars, photographers, cinema experts, writers, editors, carpenters, painters, machinists, etc., some of whom have been working on the exhibition full time for over 18 months. Just the installation, which has been ongoing since early September, will have required over five person-years of skilled labor by the time it's completed. It should be clear from this that it won't be a typical "motorcycle show."
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
With all the expertise and personnel involved in this I imagine the catalogue is going to be an expensive item?
Phaidon is a major publisher whose costs are completely independent of QAGOMA's expenses for assembling the actual exhibition. QAGOMA's website shows they have the book discounted at AU$62.95, which converts to £34.65. For comparison, twenty years ago the Guggenheim's catalogue retailed for US$75, which is US$120 (£57) in inflation-corrected money, so it's a relative bargain.
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
Sadly US$120 is no longer £57. More like £90 - £100 without looking it up.
You're right. I used an on-line calculator and copied the result without thinking about it. A different calculator gives a more reasonable £91. Even if I originally had entered AU$ by mistake, that still would be £66 so I don't know how I ended up with the original figure.
 

Albervin

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
It is pointless calculating the price of the Guggenheim book because it is a collector item now, prices range up to $500 for a mint copy.
 

Chris Launders

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VOC Member
I got a virtually untouched copy of the Guggenheim book for £1 from a charity shop, and gave it to a friend as a Christmas present last year. And yes we both knew they were worth quite a bit.
 

Magnetoman

Well Known and Active Website User
VOC Member
Only one more weekly Zoom call to go before the exhibition opens to VIPs on the 27th (a few of whom are reading this), and to the public on the 28th. The clock is winding down, there are still three bikes in transit, and a number of bikes remain to be installed, but no one is panicking. Yet.

I'm reminded that the Guggenheim exhibition was to open with a dinner in the rotunda for lenders and major museum donors on a Wednesday evening. On that Sunday afternoon I arrived from a conference in Europe, changed clothes, and went straight to the museum, where I saw that there was no possible way it could be finished in time. However, somehow amazing things got done over the next several days. Despite that, fresh plaster was being painted and labels were being attached to walls when I left late Wednesday afternoon to return to my hotel to change into a suit. At 6:59 the last of the work was finished and the exhibition was completely ready, in time for dinner which was at 7:00. I expect it will be much the same at QAGOMA.

They've been surprised by the number of visitors there to see the "normal" works of art who have inquired about the opening date for the motorcycle exhibition, and also that books have been flying off the shelves at their bookshop, the only place where they are available as yet. So, there's growing concern they might have under-anticipated demand when placing their original book order.

Additional footage shot during the installation was added to the videos we sent them a few weeks ago for the press events, with the draft of the "final" press video to be sent to us at the end of the week for approval. We also shot longer videos to be used in a more comprehensive "virtual tour," but some of the additional footage needed for that can't be shot until the installation is completed so it probably won't be until early January before the virtual tour will be ready.

Toby Price's father dropped off his son's Dakar-winning KTM yesterday and was then given a tour of the still-incomplete exhibition. He was amazed at what he saw and commented that he "had no idea" to expect something like this. Which is basically what everyone who has seen the still-incomplete exhibition has said, despite having had it described to them ahead of time. Not to compare it to the Grand Canyon, but I've found that no matter how much someone has been prepared to expect when they see the Grand Canyon for the first time, invariably they comment afterwards that they had no idea it was as large as it is. So, if you're lucky enough to see 'The Motorcycle: Design~Art~Desire' in person, expect it to be more than you expect it to be.
 

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