Different nationalities have had their own takes on the 20th century motorcycle. Harleys were rugged outlaw machines built for the likes of Marlon Brando and ready to go the distance of Route 66. British Triumph “choppers” dominated the post-war market until under the practical workmanship of the Japanese, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha bikes ascended as more mainstream, recreational and affordable. Leave it to the Italians, masters of modern design, to remake motorcycles into sleek and sexy objects of desire that also raced like speed demons.
Or so goes the premise of PASSIONE ITALIANA: DESIGN OF THE ITALIAN MOTORCYCLE, the special exhibition chosen to premiere Museum of Modern Design Atlanta’s (MODA) dynamic new Midtown location at 16th & Peachtree. On display will be 11 “masterpieces” of Italian motorcycle manufacture spanning five decades including bikes made by MV Agusta, Ducati, Bimota and Moto-Morini on loan from the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Ala. The opening night party is this Sat. March 19 at 7 p.m. and the show runs from March 20-June 13.
Who’s the lucky easy rider steering this Italian job? Twisting the wick as curator is Joe Remling, a founding principal at Atlanta architecture firm ai3, with a passion for world travel and global design, as well as an independent streak.
Why were you approached to curate this exhibit? Or did you offer?
I pitched the exhibition to Brenda Galina, executive director at MODA a little over a year ago. An exhibit about speed, the race car and their designers had been in my head for a while, but it actually came out as a motorcycle show through necessity. The “old” MODA galleries downtown were not able to handle a car show, which I really was hot to do, so I called an audible and approached Barber about partnering with us on a motorcycle show. After a couple brainstorm sessions in Birmingham, we penciled out this exhibit together.
Why choose Italian motorcycles as a subject and what do you personally like about Italian-design bikes, as opposed to British-designed, such as Triumph, or American, such as Harley?
It gave the show focus, besides the fact that Italian design is just pure sexy. Italian bikes stir the soul, they are designed and manufactured with heart, and the Italian design heritage stirs images of more then just motorcycles: fashion, industrial design, architecture, etc. The Italian sense of style, passion, and flare is incredible and honestly—something we could learn from.
Who is your favorite Italian motorcycle manufacturer and why?
Through this process I have fallen in love with MV Agusta—not only for their current designs, but their racing heritage in the ’60s. The level of detail and commitment to the brand by its owners and riders is inspiring.
Do you ride?
I don’t ride…wait, is this being recorded?! I have been around motorcycles since I was 14. I rode a motorcycle in high school as a primary mode of transportation until I needed to start driving on dates. Most Dads were not up for me taking their daughters out on a bike. Recently I have had close friends start to really work me about riding again. I am sure it will happen. I have raced bicycles on and off road, cars, might as well get back on the motorcycle.
What do you feel is the most significant contribution to motorcycle design as developed by Italian designers?
Italian bikes are not necessarily the fastest, the most reliable or the most innovative. But what Italian designers do is give a basic machine a personality. People literally fall in love with these bikes. People daydream about these bikes. It is so much more then the collection of parts you can read off a spec sheet. The [Italian] contribution to motorcycle design is “soul.”
Has motorcycle design ever influenced how you approach architectural design?
This is a great question. It’s cool to think about it that way. Since we started the research and working with Barber on this show, the bikes have influenced my thinking about what is possible. I have realized that designers of these incredible bikes approach the problem the same way we approach architecture and interior design. The bikes are still purely functional machines, but the assembly of the parts has truly inspired my thought process about details and materials. It has taught me about efficiency, patience, and reaffirmed my passion for design.
What is your favorite vintage (pre-2000) Italian bike and why?
This is a loaded questions, but here goes. If you can call a pre-2000 vintage, then the MV Agusta F4 is amazing! The bike looks like it is going 100 MPH standing still. The design is aggressive but also very elegant. But when I think vintage, I would go for the ’59 Ducati Supersport for road and the ’64 MV Agusta 500cc for the track. The Ducati is the classic ‘50s styling, long horizontal lines with a cool jelly mold gas tank, chrome trim and gold frame. Very cool!
Are there more exhibitions in the future for you or ai3?
Yes! This exhibition has been a big learning experience for us. The process is intense but incredibly rewarding. I know the focus on Italian design told through the motorcycle has some legs and will grow beyond this exhibition. We’ve been kicking around other exhibit concepts in the studio, so there will be more to come.
To purchase tickets to the grand opening party on Sat. March 19, click here or call (404) 979-6455.
Thank you to Philip Nutman for his assistance on questions for this article.