Eye Candy: Bellissima! at the Frist and the Lane museums

B.A.T. cars greet visitors as they arrive in the main gallery of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts | Larry Edsall photos
B.A.T. cars greet visitors as they arrive in the main gallery of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts | Larry Edsall photos

Not only are their respective displays impressive, but so is the cooperative effort between two Nashville museums.

“Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945-1975” is the title of the exhibit of several 10s of millions of dollars-worth of automotive overachievement on display through October 9 at The First Center for the Visual Arts, the big downtown art museum in the Music City.

1939 Fiat 508C Ballia 1100 is centerpiece of Macchinne Italiane at the Lane
1939 Fiat 508C Ballia 1100 is centerpiece of Macchinne Italiane at the Lane

The display is the latest to be guest curated by Ken Gross, long-time automotive writer and hot-rodding car collector who has found a nice niche in convincing major art museums to incorporate a display of rolling sculpture into their exhibition calendars. The Frist is the latest in a list that includes museums in Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Houston and, beginning October 1, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

Each of the exhibitions features a special group of around two dozen vehicles under an overall theme.

At Nashville, visitors are greeted by my all-time personal favorite vehicles, the three B.A.T. cars, aerodynamic Alfa Romeo concepts from the mid-1950s designed by Franco Scaglione on behalf of Bertone. As much as I love the B.A.T.s, I have to admit I also was overwhelmed a couple of rooms later when I encountered the stunning 1946 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Speciale, an amazing and large convertible produced so early in the post-war era.

I should have written “when I first encountered” because I returned to walk around the 6C several times during my visit. (One of the things I liked most about the exhibit was that cars are accessible front, side and rear so you can appreciate them from seemingly every angle, some of them even from the stairway to the second floor, where there’s an amazing hands-on art area for children.)

And it seems I’m not alone in discovering something new and being eager to return: Like other art museums that have displayed classic cars, the Frist has drawn many first-time visitors.

“Attendance has been spectacular,” said Ellen Pryor, the museum’s director of communications, who added that a significant part of that attendance has been people from outside the Nashville metro area.

“Feedback is joyful,” museum chief executive Susan Edwards said. “I hear people say they are amazed and plan to return.”

Edwards added that she has been surprised to see how many children have come with their parents.

“Seeing the cars through their eyes is revelatory and counterintuitive,” she said. “Rather than being blasé because of so much visual information in contemporary culture, young audiences are dazzled by authenticity. Bellissima! declares the relevance of museums as well as the merits of excellence in design.”

One thing that separates the Frist’s exhibit from those at many other art museums is its cooperative agreement with the Lane, Nasvhille’s permanent car museum. While the Frist focuses on the most exotic of Italian vehicles, Jeff Lane and his team present “Macchine Italiane: A Tour of Italy’s Motoring Spirit,” an exhibition that runs through May 22, 2017, featuring Italian vehicles ranging from small cars and motorcycles through a Dallara Indy racer.

Rather than competing for attention and visitors, the museums are cooperating on their exhibits to the point that if you go to one, you get a nicely discounted admission to at the other. I recognized at least one family at the Lane that I’d also seen earlier in the day at the Frist.

“Nashville has become a huge summer destination and this show, overlaid on Nashville’s inherent popularity, has really packed a 1-2 punch,” said Pryor, adding that the 1-2 punch also applies to the cooperative, “hand-in-hand” effort between the Frist and the Lane.

 

 

Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945-1975

 

 

Macchine Italiane: A Tour of Italy’s Motoring Spirit

 

Photos by Larry Edsall

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