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Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles on Rare Display at the Frist

Sleek, sexy and dazzling – the stunning collection of rare 1920′s and ’30′s automobiles that grace the gleaming floors of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts leaves every spectator breathless. Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles is a one-of-a-kind exhibition drawn from some of the most renowned car collections in the world. Pierce Silver Arrow full view

The Frist is the first fine art museum to host an exhibit solely dedicated to automobiles of the Art Deco era, a showing inspired by the Frist’s own historic Art Deco building that once housed Nashville’s main post office. The cars rolled in during June and are on display until September 15, drawing crowds from all corners of the globe. Organized by the Frist Center with Guest Curator and former Petersen Automotive Museum Executive Director Ken Gross, the collection of 18 automobiles and two motorcycles gleam under spotlights, dazzling in their perfection. Gross oozes passion about this amazing collection of unimaginably luxurious cars. Jordan Speedway Ace dash

“You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to enjoy the beauty of these automobiles,” he said. “We have some really rare cars in this exhibit. Edsel Ford’s Speedster, one of one ever built. The only surviving Jordan Speedway Ace. A Voisin Coupe, one of two and the only survivor. A Stout Scarab – they only built six. Cars were not designed with safety considerations back then. They were simply built to be beautiful.”

And beautiful they are. Make the small investment for the audio tour to hear the stories behind each impeccably restored vehicle, and you will appreciate the rich history of each one. Talbot Teardrop Coupe side view

Influenced by the Art Deco period that began in Paris in the early 1920s, automakers embraced sleek streamlined forms and aircraft-inspired materials to create memorable designs that fed the desires of the rich and famous for beauty and style. Many were actually designed by aeronautical engineers and aircraft designers like the French playboy Gabriel Voisin, creator of Europe’s first true airplane and a major producer of military aircraft.

His 1934 Voisin Type C27 Aerosport Coupe is the sole survivor of two ever made. The Aérosport’s profile outlined the cross-section of an imaginary wing. The semi-circular roofline traced the contours of a cockpit, and the larger surfaces simulated a fuselage. The final flourish to this classy automobile is the winged hood ornament. Cord Cabriolet

Capturing everyone’s eye is the low-slung burnt orange 1929 Cord L-29 Cabriolet, once owned by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Cord appeared on the cover of Time magazine five times, but like many of these Great Gatsby-era classic cars, the crash of the New York Stock Market and rough economic times precipitated their demise.

Stout ScarabShaped like the Egyptian Scarab beetle, the 1935 Stout Scarab was built by Bill Stout, the aircraft engineer who designed the Ford Tri-Motor.  His backers with deep pockets included chewing gum magnate William K. Wrigley and Dow Chemical’s Willard Dow. With movable seats and a small table, it’s easy to see where the minivan concept originated.

The sleek 1937 Delahaye 135MS Roadster built by Parisian coachbuilders Figoni and Falaschi, is so streamlined it appears to be moving while standing still. The avant-garde design caused quite a sensation at the Paris Auto Salon in 1937 and is doing so again at the Frist. “A Paris gown on wheels,” describes Gross. Delahaye Roadster side & dash

But don’t take my word for it. Come along and see for yourself the stunning artistry of these cars designed in the Art Deco style. Part of the enjoyment is imagining your hands on the wheel speeding down a country road.

If you’re looking for total Art Deco immersion, time your visit to coincide with the Frist’s Art Deco architecture tour the first Saturday of every month. It begins at 4:30 p.m. and is followed by the First Saturday Art Crawl, a festive gallery tour of participating venues along Fifth Avenue of the Arts and upstairs in the Historic Arcade. Most galleries serve free wine and other refreshments.

The visually exquisite feast of Sensuous Steel classic masterpieces is just the beginning!

Once you see the exhibit, let us know your favorite Art Deco automobile in the comments. 

Looking for more great summer trip ideas? Visit our Summer in Tennessee site and enter our #MakeSummerLast sweepstakes for a chance to win a Tennessee vacation for 4 to Chattanooga!

Hi! I’m Dayle Fergusson. As a transplanted Aussie living in Middle Tennessee since 1986, I have been a freelance travel...Read on

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