To design is to dream. Whether that dream manifests itself as a painting, a dress or a vehicle – it follows the same basic path from inception to creation, ebbing and flowing through the imagination of its creator until its ultimate climax as a completed work. The ‘design decade’ of the 1950’s espoused this philosophy, embracing the design process into every aspect of life.
New materials, techniques and narratives were being explored with unprecedented velocity – no idea was too extreme or too wild to experiment with. The result was a golden era where seemingly every industry saw an intersection of artistic effervescent with societal a demand for futuristic newness. No better example of this thriving decade exists than the design of the era’s automobiles.
The automobile was the lynchpin of the post-war era, a symbol of freedom and rebirth of sorts, a conduit of success and liberty – away from the strife and shackles of two subsequent world wars. With it – came a boom in commerce, rebellion, music, exploration, communication, technology and the arts. The car as a symbol then became paramount beyond its use as a transport machine and became an icon to be revered and celebrated.
Car designers took heed, sculpting their imaginations into fantastical vehicles for their boom-time generation. Wide bodies met with sinuous curves, sharp protruding back-fins and glistening chrome – dreams on wheels. It must be said, however, that inevitably some marques pushed the creative envelope further than others.
Indeed the Italian firm of Alfa Romeo saw it as an opportunity to explore their own artistic heritage and treble down on the dolce vita DNA pumping through its designs and it, perhaps unsurprisingly, flourished. In 1951 Alfa hired the relatively unknown Franco Scaglione – an aeronautical engineer with a penchant for ignoring unnecessary rules and hierarchy in design. Truly a maverick in his own right, he brought forward ideas to his cars that would forever revolutionise how the industry (and the world) understood car design.
Scaglione’s intuition combined an atheistic sensibility and experimentation of form that produced cars like no one had seen before; fast, slick, beautiful and incredibly robust. His most famous creations, the Berlina Aerodinamic Tecnica (or B.A.T.) concept series wowed automakers and enthusiasts around the world with their technical capabilities, innovations and swooping fluid lines.
Many of the features Scaglione brought to life are now the blueprints of modern vehicle and engine design – from their air cooled engine and plush yet engineered interior to their dynamic lines – making the B.A.T.’s some of the most important (and impossibly rare) vehicles in existence.
This month, the very same concept cars that reshaped history are being offered for auction by Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 28 October, in New York City. In an equally historic decision, the lots for the B.A.T.s 5, 7, & 9, will be sold as a single lot meaning that one collector or institution could then own this entire line of automotive and design history.
The lots will be accompanied by other members of the ‘design golden age’ Olympus, such as Mark Rothko with painting from 1958, as well s masterpieces by Clyfford Still and Brice Marden from the Baltimore Museum of Art, as well as a spectacular Robert Ryman painting from 1980 which has resided in the Crex Collection since its acquisition from Konrad Fischer.
An unmissable event – not only for avid collectors but for anyone who has ever stopped to dream and reflect on the impact of design and creativity on their own lives.