Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Frist Unpacks Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles

Posted by on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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Remember the scene in What's Eating Gilbert Grape where Gilbert and his brother watch the circus motorcade drive into town? Yesterday morning, I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio's Arnie, jumping up and down and clapping my hands — even though, in my case, this was mostly internal. The reason? I was at The Frist as they began unloading Art Deco cars for their upcoming Sensuous Steel exhibit.

The 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet “Xenia” Coupe (seen in the photo I took above) is a behemoth — the largest and heaviest car of the bunch — and I walked up just as it was being lowered from the truck to the driveway, right before its driver started up the engine. He puttered through the courtyard before stopping right at the doorway, and a cluster of onlookers followed as if the car was a holy man and we had all decided to drop everything and become disciples. From there, it took a troupe of handlers to guide it from the museum's back entrance down the hall, around the curve, and carefully into the main gallery.

The Xenia is long and shaped like a teardrop, and so huge that only the top of the driver's head is visible out the side window. The doors open like none I've ever seen — imagine an internal hinge that folds as it pushes the door out at a parallel angle, like a combination of a sliding door and a gull-wing. The interior looks like the captain's seat in a rocketship.

Sensuous Steel opens next weekend — just in time for Father's Day. More cars, motorcycles, and even a 1936 proto-minivan will continue to unload all week. Stay tuned for updates about the exhibit.

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