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The Motorcycle: Design ~ Art ~ Desire

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  • #16
    It might be worthwhile to have some context for this exhibition. With the exception of 'The Art of the Motorcycle' at the Guggenheim, a typical "motorcycle show" that most people here would have seen would have involved perhaps a dozen or two volunteers to distribute posters and emails ahead of time, and to 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. This isn't a typical "motorcycle show."

    Last night I had a FaceTime walking tour of the exhibition as it stands now. The first of the three 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 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 looks truly amazing. I dearly wish I could see it in person. Sigh...

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    • #17
      As I wrote in the first post in this thread, if these were normal times QAGOMA would get 30% of its visitors from interstate and internationally. So, since Queensland's borders are now set to open on December 1, and barring another outbreak, attendance at 'The Motorcycle' has the potential not to suffer much at all from what it would have been in a normal year. As the first major exhibition at an international museum created specifically with the post-covid world in mind, there's even reason to believe this might be the right exhibition at the right time to exceed expectations.

      Of course, the situations we face are different, but in the U.S. an estimated one-third of all museums remain closed because of covid. The financial loss of nearly a year's income thus far means some of them are being forced to sell off parts of their collections to survive and, even with that, not all of them are expected to ever reopen.

      For most major museums, a successful "summer blockbuster" exhibition provides the operating income for the remaining three-quarters of the year. Given how dire the Australian situation looked in March-April and again in July-August, museum directors who thought they were preparing for the worst by curtailing activities are now unprepared for their big summer season.

      Creating a blockbuster art or design exhibition requires a few years, not a few months, to scour the world and secure the necessary international loans, so it's not something that could be done starting when the Australian situation began to look hopeful at the end of August. For example, the exhibition this time last year at the National Gallery of Australia was of two major European artists, entitled 'Matisse & Picasso', that "brings together masterpieces from collections across the world and includes paintings that will be on display in Australia for the first time." In contrast, this year it's 'Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now' with works "Drawn from the National Gallery’s collection and loans from across Australia." Clearly, this year's exhibition was not years in the making, nor does it have the potential to draw the same number of visitors as last year's.

      Firmly in our mind throughout the entire process of putting this exhibition together wasn't motorcyclists, because we knew they would come. Rather, it was the soccer moms, young families looking for something to do on weekends, boys and girls on school or club field trips, and tourists in town on holiday who felt compelled to drag their kids to someplace cultural. If those people come away from the exhibition with an appreciation for objects they may never even have given a second thought to before, we will have been successful.

      Motorcyclists should love it because they'll get to see some amazing machines they've only read about, displayed in a way only a world-class art gallery knows how to display them. Non-motorcyclists will – we sincerely hope – love it because they'll see motorcycles in historical context as the fascinating design objects they are, as well as learn about the interesting designers who created them.

      Phrased differently, we will have been successful if both types of audiences come away from what they see saying "I had no idea!," albeit for different reasons.

      For what it's worth, despite all the uncertainty, stress and hard work since the world changed in March, Ultan Guilfoyle and I are both very pleased that QAGOMA's Director, Chris Saines, never wavered in his vision to have this exhibition open as planned on 28 November. Given how it all worked out, he is quite pleased as well. Opening is now just a few days away.

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