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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

With Lauren, high art meets hot cars at the MFA

The Daily's job, with respect to the fine-arts world, is to reflect and comment upon what's being put out there. This semester, we've seen quite a bit of art that has raised a few questions. We've seen a controversial dead lamb encased in a formaldehyde solution by Damien Hirst, 7,500 gates installed in Central Park, and you may even have heard about the mock-gates made out of toothpicks by a man in Somerville - so why not showcase cars as works of art? And why not cars owned by designer Ralph Lauren?

Actually, a link between fashion and cars is not so ill-conceived. After all, Vanna White stood next to innumerable cars during her career on "Wheel of Fortune" wearing just as many different dresses. And then there's that annoying Buick commercial with the woman wearing a succession of slinky dresses to match the cars.

In 1920s France and Italy, automotive beauty contests called concours d'elegance came into prevalence. At these shows, fashion designers would present their designs and provide live models to accompany the cars. While the cars at the MFA don't have models by their sides waving at the crowd, it is clear that many of them are there because of their good looks. Or is it what's inside that counts?

The 1937 Bugatti Type 57 SC Gangloff Drophead Coupe had it all when it was put out. This model, which reflects the sleek and low-profiled style of its time, clocks in with a top speed of 115 mph, and has an added supercharger to increase its power. Ralph's 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder was also noted for its appealing aesthetics, somehow using spiders as a gimmick to make this car seem cute. This is the model that James Dean crashed in, resulting in both his death and an increase in sales thereafter.

It was not unusual for the Californian elite to latch onto a particular model. The 1950 Jaguar XK120 Alloy Roadster, for which the company planned the production of only 200 vehicles, became a quick success and was owned by both Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Among the vehicles showcased are Bugattis, Porsches, Jaguars, Mercedes, Ferraris, Alpha Romeos and McLarens. No American cars are present, and there are cars on display that were never even geared toward an American market. The dynamic 1988 Porsche 959 AG, which has an all-wheel drive designed for multiple usages as a road car, race car, and rally car, are only owned by a few people within the United States.

The 1933 Bugatti Type 59 Grand Prix gets the award for character. The radiator is shaped like the archway leading into the city of Molsheim in France, the home of the Bugatti factory. Adorning the outside are leather straps and external brake lines. This one caps at 135 mph, though given its antique appearance, this might not be something you'd want to try at home.

Also of note is the Bugatti Atlantic, which has an exposed seam that runs down the spine of the car. If cars are linked to fashion, then the body of a car is unavoidably associated with the human body, most traditionally with the female body. Phrases such as "she's my baby" or "is she running hot?" come to mind. Well, lets just say, no such thing could be uttered of this particular model.

Along with the cars, the MFA presents profiles of the manufacturers and designers of each type of vehicle, with an implied postulation that each personality is reflected in the respective car's design. Enzo Ferrari, who took equal interest in opera, journalism, and car racing, presided over the design of each of his models, giving his personal input on line, form and other aesthetics.

Ferdinand Porsche was an amazing and innovative engineer who by his early twenties designed the first hybrid car. Funny how that was over one hundred years ago, and they still haven't caught on, eh?

In case visitors forget that these cars belong to Ralph Lauren, there are videos playing inside the gallery to remind them. One features Ralph Lauren driving on the grounds of the Crane Estate in Ipswich MA, with wind flying through his hair and long shots of the mansion and greens in the background. These videos invoke both the sense of elitist beauty that is inherent in the cars themselves, and also the $22 entrance fee that burns a hole in visitors' wallets.

Let's see ... there were about 200 people in the gallery, which puts ticket sales for the 11:00 viewing at loosely ... $4,400 dollars. With a day's worth of ticket sales, someone could be well on their way to purchasing a hybrid.