The upcoming exhibition, Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975 (May 27–October 9, 2016), at Nashville’s The Frist Center for the Visual Arts celebrates the visual dynamism and spirit of innovation characterizing Italian coachbuilt cars, concept cars and motorcycles produced during the post–World War II economic revival. Returning to the Frist Center after the 2013 presentation of Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles, automotive authority and guest curator Ken Gross has chosen 19 automobiles and 3 motorcycles from private collections and museums that are among the finest examples of Italian automotive design, including vehicles by Alfa Romeo, Bizzarrini, Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia and Maserati. With the ultra-rare Alfa Romeo BAT models 5, 7 and 9 from the 1950s and a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, this all-star assembly offers surprises for even the most knowledgeable car aficionados. These powerful and extraordinary cars exemplify the sexy and streamlined Italian design language that propelled Italy to the forefront of automotive design internationally. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated scholarly catalogue published by Rizzoli.
After World War II, Italian automobile designers began to create sleek, low-slung berlinettas (coupes) that would win postwar races and inspire a legion of stunning road-going cars. New companies like Cisitalia and Ferrari used the resumption of auto racing as a platform to begin producing stylish cars that soon caught the attention of wealthy glitterati, movie stars, and influential industrialists. These clients relished the idea of exclusive, often bespoke automobiles, with powerful engines and advanced styling. Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, and smaller Italian carmakers soon followed suit; with Ferruccio Lamborghini creating a grand touring Berlinetta that would rival Ferrari’s.
With their startling, often sensual designs, Italian cars from the mid-century had an immense influence on the automotive industry around the world. The successful racing efforts of Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo ensured that Italian automakers dominated international competition. Lessons from racing were applied to the design of road cars and Italy’s auto industry helped lead an international styling renaissance. In 1954, Road & Track declared, “The Italian influence leads the automotive design world. It remains consistent, commanding, spirited and graceful.”
Coach builders worked with carmakers in Italy as well as those in countries like England and Spain. In the United States, Italians designed and built bodies for production cars like Nash, Hudson and even Cadillac. Chrysler hired Italian designers to build a series of dramatically modern concept cars, including Firebirds and Firearrows. Their so-called “Forward Look” styling intrigued American buyers and influenced many later production models.
Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975 is broken into five distinct themes: Berlinettas, Aerodynamics, Advanced Mid-engine Cars, Wedge-Shaped Automobiles and Custom Coachwork Designs for Italian and American Automakers. And, in turn, each section showcases some of the best automobiles and handcrafted machinery ever to hit the road.
Berlinettas: 1950 Cisitalia 202 SC, 1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic, 1956 Maserati A6G 2000 Zagato, and a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
Aerodynamics: 1946 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 S, 1953 Alfa Romeo BAT 5, 1954 Alfa Romeo BAT 7, 1955 Alfa Romeo BAT 9, 1961 Ferrari 400 Superamerica and a 1952 Lancia B52 Aurelia Spider PF200
Custom Coachwork Designs for Italian and American Automakers: 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis, 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car and a 1952 Cunningam C3 Continental.
Advanced Mid-Engine Cars: 1963 ATS 2500 GT, 1966 Ferrari 365 P Tre Posti, 1968 Bizzarrini 5300 Strada and a 1970 Lamborghini Miura S
Wedge-Shaped Automobiles: 1955 Chrysler Ghia Gilda and a 1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero
Motorcycles: 1957 Moto Guzzi 500-cc V-8, 1973 MV Agusta 750 Sport and a 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport.
Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975 was organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts with guest curator Ken Gross. Gross has served as Guest Curator for many exhibitions of extraordinary automobiles at many fine art museums, including: The Allure of the Automobile (High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 2010, and the Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, 2011); Speed: The Art of the Performance Automobile (Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, 2012), Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles (Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, 2013);Porsche By Design: Seducing Speed (North Carolina Museum of Art, 2013); and Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas (High Museum of Art in Atlanta, 2014, and Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2015).
The exhibition is sponsored in part by Chubb Collector Car Insurance, Metro Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission and Art Works (www.arts.gov). The Media Sponsor is Sports Car Digest. The Platinum Sponsor is HCA/TriStar Health and the Presenting Sponsors are Barbara, Jack, Sara and Richard Bovender.