I’ve never ridden a motorcycle and probably never will. Too fast, too dangerous. However, this conviction was seriously challenged when I visited Full Throttle: Vintage Motorcycles, Custom Choppers and Racing Machines at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont this past summer. Now I can almost imagine leather pants, a cut off denim jacket, and maybe a star-spangled helmet in my designer wardrobe.
The exhibition was a shock to my “less is more” aesthetic leanings, but it was also just what I needed. The more radical the designs, the better they were.
It was also a shock to the Shelburne Museum. Located in the scenic Lake Champlain valley, it’s one of the nation’s finest museums of art and Americana. Over 150,000 works are exhibited in a beautiful pastoral setting of 39 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and as such were relocated to the museum grounds. There’s even an immense iron-clad steamboat on the grounds.
I visit this museum annually. It usually draws a genteel family-oriented crowd arching to see the impressive permanent collection. This time the crowd was a little different–the contrast between the typical Shelburne visitor and road-hardened bikers with their Fu-Man Chu mustaches and fading tattoos was striking.
Exhibited on all three levels of the museum’s historic 80-foot diameter Round Barn gallery, Full Throttle is organized into three thematic sections.
• Wide Open and Wild: Racing Machines examines the role of racing tracks as testing grounds for motorcycle design.
• Classic Cool: Vintage Motorcycles features iconic examples of Indian, Harley Davidson and Triumph motorcycles.
• Choppers: Art of the Custom Ride includes examples of regional styles and compares old-school choppers to contemporary themed or fantasy bikes.
Not being a motorcycle aficionado, I found the third section most enthralling because of the sheer gorgeousness of the bikes. These machines are about design, invention, power, individuality, color, and spectacle. It’s bling on wheels and the designs are beautifully over-the-top–in all the right ways. It’s also about love. You can feel it in the exquisite craftsmanship and painstaking attention to detail. All of the bikes are handmade and one-of-a-kind.
Complimenting the gleaming exo-skeletal character of the bikes are the lush colors and fine graphics that cover their frames and gas tanks.
I may never fall in love with motorcycles but seeing this exhibition was like a memorable one-night stand. On two wheels or four, if you’re thinking of joining the mass migration of “leaf peepers” that descend on Vermont each fall you must get your motor running and check out this exhibition before it closes on October 25.
Ken Carbone is among America’s mostrespected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity andintelligence. He has built an international reputation creatingoutstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany &Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie’s, Nonesuch Records, the WHotel Group and The Taubman Company. His clients also includecelebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, TheMuseum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago SymphonyOrchestra, and the High Museum of Art.