Norman Foster says goodbye to the combustion era with an exhibition that goes in search of the soul of the automobile. And finds it.
I am perfectly aware that this newspaper is called Portugal Resident and is, therefore, aimed at Portugal residents. That makes sense. I am also aware that, without leaving the Iberian Peninsula, there are not many places I can advise you to go to that are much further than Bilbao. But that is exactly what I am going to do.
Because in Bilbao you will find one of the most famous museums in the world, the Guggenheim, an architectural masterpiece from the genius mind of Frank Gehry. The building alone is worth the trip if you have never been.
I, however, had been to Bilbao before and had been to the Guggenheim – and the building itself was not what led me to take a road trip with Mrs. M and the kids. It was what currently sits inside the museum.
The exhibition is called ‘Motion – Autos, Art, Architecture’ and the curator is none other than Sir Norman Foster, himself one of the most famous architects of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Baron Foster of Thames Bank is also a true petrolhead and a man of exquisite taste, not to mention a master of aesthetics with a deep knowledge of the meaning of form and function. So I am not going to mess about here: this is the greatest car exhibition I have ever seen; a collection of vehicles and their context in the wider world that puts in perspective how much culture and our collective imagination is going to lose when the world of mobility turns fully electric and a car is little more than a white good made to carry us from A to B in the most efficient, passionless, emotionless manner.
If you love cars, then you really must go, as this may be the only chance to get up close and personal with some of the most significant, most beautiful automobiles ever made. If you don’t love cars, you really must go as well, as this may be the only chance to get up close and personal with some of the most significant, most beautiful objects ever made.
The brilliance of ‘Motion’ is that each of the seven rooms of the exhibition displays a theme in automotive progress and shows how art and architecture influenced and were influenced by a certain type or period of car. The vehicles stand in the middle of the rooms and all around them you will find paintings, sculptures, blueprints, photographs and the likes which help to understand the choices made in the creation of those cars and vice-versa. Artists present? Warhol, Picasso, Monet, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright. Do I have your attention yet?
That is why under the same roof you will find what are probably two of the three most expensive cars in the world should they be put on sale today – that is the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic and the Ferrari 250 GTO – and an original Nuova 500, the pint-sized car that gave Italian families the freedom of mobility they needed after WWII and changed the country forever.
Some cars had not left their owners’ garage for more than 40 years – and will likely not leave again for 40 more – whereas for example the 1 of 1 Pegaso Z-102 built in 1952 and sold in 1953 had never set foot in its home country since.
Mr Foster’s own Bentley R-Type Continental or Porsche 356 A (said to be the most well-preserved example in the world) are also highlights, with the actual Aston Martin that appeared in “007-Goldfinger” making a strong case for the crowd’s attention.
The Stratos Zero – also 1 of 1 – shows the beginning of the idea that eventually blossomed into the craziest rally car ever and gave Lancia three world titles, while just behind it sits the Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 with which Lewis Hamilton took his Michael Schumacher-equaling seventh F1 title in 2021.
This is not a show in search of the most expensive, rarest cars in the world, however they might also be just that. It seems to be looking for the true soul of the automobile and to enlighten its visitors that these man-made products are much more than just a means of transportation.
You can feel the love the British architect has for these cars (11 out of 44 come from the Foster Family Collection) and why he chose each and every one of them. I don’t think I will ever see so much beauty condensed in one place ever again.
‘Motion’ is a mystical experience for someone who, like me, lives and breathes cars every single day. To witness an exhibition which is able to explain, in such a clear display, how and why such vehicles matter in the wider meaning of things was almost overwhelming. I felt like asking every single person there: do you see it now? Do you understand?
At the end, I got back to the 250 GTO, the most important Ferrari of all time. For a Ferrarista like me, those few square meters around it were holy ground and the closest I will ever get to a religious experience. The car on display is owned by Norman Foster’s friend Nick Mason, none other than the drummer of that band called Pink Floyd. He bought it in 1977 for £37,000 with proceeds from “The Dark Side of The Moon” and, although it would probably be worth around €100 million today, he has raced it frequently ever since. What a legend.
‘Motion – Autos, Art, Architecture’ runs until September 18. I may just have to go back to Bilbao one more time.