More than a century after the automobile became a staple of daily life, it has shaped modern society both directly (for instance, the rise of the suburb) and indirectly (its significance in consumerism and industrial design). London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which predates the automobile by decades, has decided to at last turn its gaze on the automobile with an exhibit focusing on those various influences and some of the vehicles that have changed our world.
“As we stand at a new turning point in mobility design, this exhibition acts as a looking-back-to-look-forward — to understand our past blunders and achievements in order to better imagine how we want to move in the future,” according to the museum’s website.
The first part, “Going Fast,” explores the automobile as a symbol of technological progress (represented by the Firebird I) and of liberated movement (represented by the 1888 Benz Patent Motorwagen) by highlighting not just the pursuit for greater speeds spurred by the automobile, but also the safety concerns that come with those greater speeds.
The second, “Making More,” takes a look at the automobile “as the archetype of modern manufacturing,” its role “in shaping the ways we think about work and production,” and “techniques developed to sell mass-produced cars,” highlighted by examples ranging from the Ford Model T to a Labourdette-bodied 1922 Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 Skiff Torpedo.
The final part, “Shaping Space,” examines how the automobile led to the rise of the global oil industry and our increasing dependence on oil as an economic driver along with the various ways countries and governments have had to adapt to the automobile, from building highways to extracting resources. Attempts to mitigate the environmental impacts of the automobile — like the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller microcar — will illustrate this part of the exhibit.
Along with the cars, the exhibit will feature a specially made film that surveys a number of different automotive subcultures around the world, from California lowriders to Emirati dune racers to Japanese dekotora drivers. It will also take a look forward to see how electric cars, autonomous cars, and even flying cars will attempt to deliver on the automobile’s original promise of speed and freedom.
“It’s a timely time because we are at this massive turning point and nobody really knows what the future will be — even car experts say they can’t predict it — so it’s a really good moment to look back at 130 years of the car and design,” curator Brendan Cormier said.
The V&A, founded in 1852, follows a mission of using design to change the world, “and no other design object has impacted the world more than the automobile,” Cormier said.
The exhibit opens November 23 and runs through April 19, 2020. For more information, visit vam.ac.uk.