'The Shape of Speed' to open at Portland Art Museum
Automobile enthusiast Alan Johnson has realized not one but two dreams. In 2010, the Portland metro area man found his ideal car, a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr coupe, which he restored to pristine beauty. And in 2018, Johnson was asked to display his car in the Portland Art Museum's exhibit "The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930-1942," opening June 16.
Of course he agreed, adding, "It's a once in a lifetime experience."
Lincoln Zephyr coupe
Johnson's dark green Lincoln Zephyr coupe is the only locally owned vehicle in the exhibit; all other cars are coming from private collectors or car museums from other parts of the United States, as well as from Canada, Germany and Italy.
Although Johnson lives in the Portland area, he is a member of the Columbia River branch of The Early Ford V-8 Club of America, which meets at the grange in Oregon City. That link is significant because it was through the car club that Johnson first heard of a man in Southern Oregon who had a Lincoln Zephyr coupe in his barn.
Johnson and a friend make the trek to look at the car, which was covered with dust.
When he called his wife Carolyn to tell her about the car, she said, "You're going to pay how much for a car that doesn't run?"
But Johnson, who is a car mechanic, decided to gamble because he thought there was a good chance he could get the car up and running.
As it turned out, all parts of the car were intact, which Carolyn Johnson noted is very rare.
Johnson did all the mechanical restoration on the car, and then in 2012 had it repainted to its original color of evergreen poly-flake.
Johnson said that his wife refers to the car as "The Mistress" because of all the time and money he has lavished on it.
Last year, the Lincoln Zephyr coupe was on display at the Greater Portland Concours d'Elegance Car Show in Forest Grove. Someone with connections to the Portland Art Museum saw it, and that led to an invitation to be part of the upcoming exhibit.
"I knew I had a rare car but I'm not a guy who travels in art museum circles. I grew up with a wrench in my hand; I'm a car mechanic," Johnson said.
Some might question why cars will be shown at an art museum, but Johnson thinks everything people make is "a form of expression, a form of art."
His car, he added, is the epitome of the art deco look so popular in the 1930s, and all the vehicles on display at the museum are "very rare, one-of-a-kind cars made by true craftsmen."
He is most looking forward to seeing the French cars, he said, because they are "so swoopy and stylish looking." Johnson noted that there are two motorcycles in the show, and although he is a "car guy," he wants to see them because they "are so unique and so state of the art."
People should visit the exhibit, he said, because "you may have seen photos of these cars, but these are the real deal."
Celebrating the beauty of cars!
What: The Portland Art Museum presents "The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930-1942"
When: June 16 to Sept. 16
Where: 1219 S.W. Park Ave., in downtown Portland
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; the museum is closed on Monday.
Admission: Admission is free for members. General admission is $19.99 for adults; $16.99 for seniors 62+ and college students; and free for children 17 and under.
Contacts: For more information, call 503-226-2811 or visit portlandartmuseum.org.
People passing by the Portland Art Museum last week were treated to the sight of vintage automobiles being unloaded from huge moving vans and pushed or driven through the portals of the museum.
One especially heart-stopping moment came when a sleek, black 1942 Alpha Romeo Bertone Berlina came down the ramp, all sensuous curves and gleaming metal.
Ken Gross took the driver's seat, and the car started with a throaty growl that echoed up and down the street. He drove the sporty vehicle to the door of the museum, where a crew pushed it inside to its display area.
Gross is the guest curator of The Portland Art Museum's "The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930-1942." The exhibit opens on June 16 and runs through Sept. 16.
For those who wonder why cars are on display at an art museum, Gross said that cars have been described as "hollow, rolling sculptures."
He noted that throughout history, items that may have begun their lives as functional have become celebrated for their beauty.
The cars at the museum are "elegantly conceived, 20th century industrial art," Gross added.
People should come to the exhibit, he said, because "the automobile is the most important invention of the 20th century; it linked the world and it represents individual freedom."
Gross described the vehicles in the PAM exhibit as "celebrating the most beautiful examples of cars from 1930 to 1942."
Also, he noted, every car has a story, which is why his lecture at 2 p.m. on June 17 is entitled "Behind the Headlights."
These vehicles also represent a watershed moment in world history, when the entire automotive industry switched to making military trucks, tanks and airplanes," he said.
Gross added, "I wonder what cars would have been like if World War II hadn't intervened."