By Gert Bue Larsen…..

As Covid shuttered everything in NYC in March 2020, it of course also shuttered MoMA and postponed the “Automania” exhibition which was scheduled to run from June 28 to September 7, 2020.

Fortunately, in 2021 “Automania” was back on their exhibition plan from July 4, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

At first glance, a car exhibition at MoMA sounds strange. Cars are not exactly the kind of objects MoMA is known for, and why would there be a need to exhibit cars at MoMA when there are thousands of dedicated car museums around the world?

I think it’s safe to say that MoMA has no intention of being or becoming a car museum. But with the “Automania” exhibition they want to acknowledge the importance of cars in the world and their co-existence with us all, for better or worse — through works of art, posters, advertisements, car components, movies, drawings, as well as nine cars and a trailer.

In order of age, the vehicles on display are as follows:

This is said to be MoMA’s entire collection of vehicles, so everything on wheels has been retrieved from their archives for this exhibition. MoMA’s archive numbers reveal that most of these have been in their possession for quite some time, while three of them were added recently, perhaps in preparation for this exhibition: Fiat 500 and Porsche 911 in 2017, and Citroën DS 23 in 2018.

A little background story about MoMA’s acquisition of the DS was told to me last year by my dear friend (and for so many of us in the Citroën community), the always knowledgeable and helpful Carter Willey:

In the summer of 2017, Carter was contacted by MoMA’s Collection Specialist for Architecture & Design. MoMA had been offered a pale blue 1959 ID 19 or a red 1973 DS 23 by a Swiss collector, and they asked for Carter’s advice and opinion about which of the two possible donations they should accept. As the purist he was, Carter expressed his clear recommendation to choose the 1959 ID 19, because it was the one which was most true to Flaminio Bertoni’s original design and ideas. A very sensible and well-considered recommendation by Carter, which I completely concur with because this was to become an object at the design museum above all design museums … MoMA.

Oh well – MoMA chose to disregard Carter’s good advice, and they instead chose the red 1973 DS 23 as a donation from Christian Sumi in Switzerland….

Most of the “Automania” exhibit is located indoors on the 3rd floor of the main building, but up until October 15, 2021, the following cars were exhibited outdoors in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden: Fiat 500, Smart, Porsche 911, Jeep, and Citroën DS 23.

The cars were lifted into The Sculpture Garden using a large mobile crane parked on West 54th Street. On MoMA’s facebook page, there is a nice little video of the red DS hovering on a platform high up over West 54th Street.

Although I too would rather have seen the early ID 19 at MoMA, it is great that they have included a Citroën D-model in their small collection of cars. After visiting the exhibition in September 2021, I can certainly find positive things so say about the red DS 23:

  • Nice base model DS 23, non-Pallas, carburetor, BVH, and with red fabric seats.
  • The car has not been dolled up with any retrofitted Pallas equipment.
  • Good paint job in a bright non-metallic color (Rouge Massena) which is correct for model year 1973.
  • Straight and well-fitting outer body panels.
  • Correct 1973 details such as plastic trim around the headlights, plastic front turn signals, and small stainless steel side mirror only on the left side.

However, there are also a few hairs in the soup if I am to be nerdy and detail-focused:

  • The rearview mirror has been fitted upside down.
  • The wipers are incorrectly fitted and parked in the wrong position.
  • Retrofitted antenna on the right front fender.
  • The car is lacking the aluminum covers on the side sills.
  • Holes in the front and ugly brackets at the rear from previous license plate fittings.
  • Ugly grouting of the front part of the roof.

MoMA had the car repainted before the exhibition. Things were disassembled, and the parts must have been reassembled by people with no knowledge of a DS: the wipers are fitted in a parking position that look silly because someone thought the wipers should be hidden by the hood. The rearview mirror is rotated 180 degrees to a position that obviously does not match the shape of the rear window, and the day/night knob should of course not be pointing up. Since the car was repainted, it is a bit of a mystery to me why they did not take the opportunity to eliminate the ugly antenna on the right front fender. And why didn’t they unbolt the roof and fit a new rubber gasket instead of making an ugly bead of black sealant that is smeared across the entire width of the front part of the gutter?

Finally, I think it would have been nicer to display the car in its normal ride height instead of in its lowest depressurized state. It would have been easy to make some suitable blocks to fit between the suspension stops and the suspension arms, or to fit supporting rods inside the suspension cylinders.

It is certainly wonderful that there is now a Citroën DS in MoMA’s collection, but since this is MoMA, I would have expected a little more expertise and focus on getting the details correct and neat. I have politely informed MoMA’s Collection Specialist about my observations and I almost instantly received a positive response indicating that they seem genuinely interested in getting things right. It will be interesting to see what happens. Once “Automania” is over, this DS may not see the light of day again until many years from now when it might be time for another MoMA exhibition involving cars.

2 comments

  1. Personally, I can’t believe they accepted a late car over the original Bertoni original… and in red, arguably the worst color for a DS (I had a red ‘61 ID19 and ‘68 DS19 both in red so I can say that 🙂). That said, so happy there’s a DS at MOMA!

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