The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire

4 months ago | Words: Peter Whitaker | Photos: Rob Dames, Rosco Holden, QAGOMA

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.

When the elites residing on New York’s Fifth Avenue learnt how Charles Falzo and Ultan Guilfoyle intended to degrade their city’s Museum of Modern Art, they were mortified. Motorcycles! In our Guggenheim? How uncouth.

Despite the snooty opposition, the exhibition titled The Art of the Motorcycle, ran for three months in 1998, captivating a total attendance of more than 300,000: the largest in Guggenheim’s history!

Many years later, Charles and Ultan, keen to produce another blockbuster, were fortunate to meet fellow motorcycle nut, Michael O’Sullivan – one of the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) curators. And the result is The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire.

Two years in the making, this magnificently displayed assemblage of 100 motorcycles features a significant number of collectables with a distinctly Australian heritage; machines such as the 1906 Spencer, and the first all-Australian dirt bike, designed and built with hand-made components by local Brisbane lad, David Spencer.

Then there’s the ‘million dollar’ Vincent Black Lightning, on which Jack Ehret set the Australian Land Speed Record at Gunnedah back in 1953. And the Mugen Honda ME390R, on which Mark Pace contested the groundbreaking ‘Mister Motocross’ series 40 years ago. And, not to be missed, the Red Bull KTM 450 Rallye that took our Toby to victory in the 2016 Dakar. Priceless!

The Kiwis have not been forgotten. Though I personally don’t warm to the colour scheme, the Britten is certainly the most purposeful-looking bike on our planet. And the full-size bisected replica of Burt Munro’s Indian is truly awesome.

Of the other machines on display, the Bauhaus brutal 2020 electric Savic appeared to be a massive industrial intercooler on wheels. If form follows function, then let me off at the next stop. On the other hand, the spectacular star of the show, the 1929 Majestic, with a hopelessly impractical turning circle, would be simply stunning sitting kerbside while I sipped my skinny almond milk iced latte. Or preferably a Pastis or two in a café on the rue des Beaux-Artes.

There’s something for everyone at Charles and Ultan’s show. Movie clips from The Wild One, The Great Escape and Pulp Fiction, interactive displays, plus ‘meet and greets’ with Aussie champions (dependent on travel restrictions). The show closes in late April 2021.

Second best by a long, long margin is the blog that showcases these landmark machines, or this time-lapse vision of the installation coming together.

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