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Installation view of Automania, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 4, 2021 – January 2, 2022. © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Denis Doorly

MoMA's new Automania exhibition is a vintage car enthusiast's delight

Featuring early 20th-century models paired with fine art, the new show unpacks the complicated role of cars.

Written by
André Wheeler

Start your engines for MoMA’s newest exhibition, Automania.

At first glance, cars might seem like mundane, carbon-emitting fixtures of contemporary life across much of the world. They’re woven into the fabric of American life — many towns and cities are nearly impossible to traverse without a vehicle. But as much as we take cars for granted, these marvels of machinery and human ingenuity emerged through some complicated socio-political and economic conditions. Featuring vintage cars from the earliest years of automobiles, Automania unpacks the complex relationship, and dependence, between us and cars. 

The two-part exhibition consists of galleries on view from July 4 through January 2, 2022, and a total of nine vintage cars dotting the museum’s first floor and Sculpture Garden until October 10. The exhibition pulls its name from a 1964 Oscar-nominated cartoon by the British animation team Halas and Batchelor (most famous for their adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm).  In a press release, the MoMa pitches the ambitious show as examining “the car as a modern industrial product, transportation innovator, and style icon, as well as the generator of fatalities, traffic-choked environments, and ecological disaster in the oil age.” And, at the end of the day, the younger ones are sure to be impressed by all the cool cars.

MoMA Automania Exhibition
Installation view of Automania, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 4, 2021 – January 2, 2022. © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Robert Gerhardt

There are plenty of gems on display for true autophiles, including a 1973 Citroën DS sedan, an Airstream Bambi trailer and a rugged, fifties-era Jeep Truck. If you’re more into the historical aspect of cars, vintage film reels, commercials, and posters from Ford and General Motors are part of the show. Paired with various traffic signage from across the world, the show expertly tracks how cars become easier and cheaper to produce, their footprint on society increased astronomically. 

Automania arrives in a city that is currently re-examining the role of cars. A key talking point of the past mayoral debate was decreasing the presence and influence of cars in New York, many candidates speaking out on the need for increased bike and bus lanes. While Automania reflects on a time when cars were positioned as the exciting future of society, emblematic of society’s potential, increasingly, they are being seen as a thing of the past. 

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