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Age of high style

Varoom! Varoom! Historic cars add a little muscle to summer museum exhibits
by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND ART MUSEUM Cars can be rolling works of art that reflect their times, as the “Allure of the Automobile” exhibition at the Portland Art Museum so clearly shows. It is one of several exhibits and shows that will celebrate cars in the South Park Blocks all summer long.

Fans of art and automobiles are gearing up for what some are calling the 'Summer of Cars' in the South Park Blocks.

The Portland Art Museum and the Oregon History Museum will play host to significant car-related exhibits and other activities through the summer. They feature a range of automobiles, from a rare 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow to historic Oregon race cars to vehicles owned by members of local car clubs. Together, the events present cars as everything from works of high art to technological marvels to recreational toys.

It kicks off on Sunday, May 29 with 'Pedal to the Metal,' an original exhibit about the state's motorsport history at the Oregon History Museum. Never have so many Oregon-owned race cars, motorcycles and engines been displayed in one place at one time. They will include local cars raced at the Indy 500, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

'The OHS is making a wonderful connection to Oregon by showcasing race cars of many shapes and sizes which were designed, built or driven by Oregonians,' says Kerry Timchuck, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, which operates the historical museum.

The exhibit also features video, photographs, memorabilia and eye-catching wall graphics that provide the display's history and context. Curator Robert Joki has been working with the historical society to track down famous race drivers, builders and enthusiasts to piece together the show. It runs through Sept. 4.

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Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society • The first rear-engine car to race at the Indianapolis 500 was designed by Portlander Rolla Volstedt. Shown here at the 1965 race, it will be on display at the Oregon History Museum.

The exhibit is held in cooperation with the Portland Rose Festival's Rose Cup Race, Oregon's most famous sports car race, which began on June 11, 1961, at West Delta Park. The 51st race is scheduled June 17 and 19.

Next, the Portland Art Museum opens 'The Allure of the Automobile' on June 11. Organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, it is the first exhibition to consider the stylistic development of cars in the context of prominent design movements such as Art Moderne and Postwar Modernity. In addition to the Pierce-Arrow, the featured cars include a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, a 1953 Porsche 550 Prototype, a 1957 Jaguar XK-SS Roadster, and a 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

''The Allure of the Automobile' builds upon the museum's desire to explore modern and contemporary design concepts and their application. This exhibition is especially meaningful for our city, which has a significant number of graphic and industrial design students, practitioners and businesses. I am confident that the extraordinary automobile designs in the exhibition will be an inspiration for many,' says Brian Ferriso, the Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. director at the museum.

Many of these cars have never been exhibited together before, says Keith Martin, local publisher of 'Sports Car Market,' a well-regarded guide to collector cars.

'In the past, you had to travel all over the world to see these cars. Now they are going to be all together under one roof at the Portland Art Museum. It is a unique opportunity for anyone who loves cars or appreciates how they can be works of art,' says Martin, who is assisting with the exhibition.

The exhibition will be accompanied by programs and opportunities to learn more about these remarkable automobiles, the technology behind them, and their historical and cultural context. They include lectures and even a hoods-up walkthrough with celebrity car collector Jay Leno, host of 'The Tonight Show.'

The exhibition is guest curated by Ken Gross, the former director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and lasts through Sept. 11.

'These cars combine state-of-the-art engineering, meticulous craftsmanship, and groundbreaking design to create works of rolling sculpture,' Ferriso says.

If that isn't enough, every Saturday from June 18 to Sept. 10, the South Park Blocks will be turned over to local car clubs where enthusiasts will show off their prized vehicles.

The shows are organized by manufacturers and types, beginning with Chevrolets, including vintage automobiles and hot rods, and ending with green cars.

The shows are free and run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.