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Inventive, Historic Concept Cars Rev Up the High

The exhibition “Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas,” which opened at the High Museum of Art on Wednesday, will feature some of the rarest, most imaginative cars designed by Ferrari, Bugatti, General Motors and Porsche.

Norman Timbs Special, 1947 - Norman Timbs (American, 1917-1993), designer Attributed to Emil Diedt, fabricator Courtesy of Gary and Diane Cerveny, Malibu, California. Credit: High Museum of Art
Norman Timbs Special, 1947 - Norman Timbs (American, 1917-1993), designer Attributed to Emil Diedt, fabricator Courtesy of Gary and Diane Cerveny, Malibu, California. Credit: High Museum of Art
Patch Staff Report

The High Museum of Art will present a major exhibition of innovative automotive design that will bring together 17 concept cars from across Europe and the U.S.

On view from May 21 through Sept. 7, 2014, “Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas” will feature concept cars from the early 1930s to the 21st century that pushed the limits of imagination and foreshadowed the future of design.

The exhibition will pair conceptual drawings, patents and scale models with realized cars, demonstrating how their experimental designs advanced ideas of progress and changed the automobile from an object of function to a symbol of future possibilities.

Concept cars are a way for automakers, coachbuilders and independent designers to showcase and demonstrate innovative and progressive designs. Most concept cars are never intended for series production and are created as a way to explore ideas through styling and design aesthetics, as well as experiment with new technology.

Highlights of “Dream Cars” include:

  • Paul Arzens’ “L’Oeuf électrique” (1942), an electric bubble car designed by Arzens for his personal use in Paris during the German occupation, which has never before traveled to the U.S.
  • William Stout’s “Scarab” (1936), the genesis of the contemporary minivan.
  • Marcello Gandini’s  Lancia (Bertone) “Stratos HF Zero” (1970), a wedge-shaped car that is only 33 inches tall.
  • Christopher Bangle’s BMW “GINA Light Visionary Model” (2001), featuring an exterior made of fabric.
  • A full-scale (6 x 20 foot) rendering of a concept car by Carl Renner (1951).

“Dream Cars” will also examine how automotive design events like General Motors’ 1949-61 Motoramas influenced the industry and will feature three cars from these events: Firebird 1 XP-21 (1954), Buick Centurion (1956) and Le Sabre (1951). This section of the exhibition will focus on the role of automotive designers such as Harley Earl at GM, who combined styling and design aesthetics with technological advances to create futuristic renderings that imbued automobiles with a sense of glamour and fantasy.

“The concept cars presented in ‘Dream Cars’ demonstrate how design can transcend the present and offer new paths and opportunities for the future,” said Sarah Schleuning, exhibition curator and curator of decorative arts and design at the High. “While these cars were never mass-produced, they shaped the future of the automotive industry by challenging the notion of what is possible, technologically and stylistically.”

To complement the presentation, the exhibition will include a contemporary design workshop featuring the 2010 Porsche Spyder 918 concept car.

“‘Dreams Cars’ offers the opportunity to explore the dreams of individual automotive designers, as well as some of the most famous car manufacturers in the world,” said Michael E. Shapiro, the Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. director of the High Museum of Art. “Three years ago, we organized the exhibition ‘The Allure of the Automobile,’ which focused on the evolution of the motorcar. That exhibition was tremendously successful in bringing new audiences to the museum. With ‘Dream Cars,’ we continue our commitment to showcasing the importance of design and encouraging future innovation.”

“This exhibition presents 17 historic four-wheeled fantasies that push the envelopes of automotive styling, engineering and design to impressive heights. Visual and tactile tributes to ingenuity and imagination, these remarkable cars will intrigue visitors with their audacity, just as they did when they first appeared," said Ken Gross, automotive expert and consulting curator for “Dream Cars.”

A full-color, 160-page catalogue will accompany the exhibition, featuring stunning photography and an extended essay by Schleuning exploring the effects of aerodynamics and aeronautics on car design, the design process from conception to completion, and how groundbreaking events such as General Motors' Motorama fueled the creativity of automobile styles. Also included will be comprehensive automotive descriptions by Gross.

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