Back in 1998, entrepreneurial museum director Thomas Krens created something of an art world sensation when he filled the Guggenheim Museum in New York with 114 motorcycles. The controversial The Art of the Motorcycle prompted some wags to suggest that the bike show had finally fulfilled the circular Frank Lloyd Wright museum’s destiny as a parking ramp, but it was also one of the most popular exhibitions in the museum’s history, luring in some 300,000 folks not bothered in the least by the distinction between high art and beautiful design.
Full Throttle: Vintage Motorcycles, Custom Choppers and Racing Machines at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, (May 17 through October 25) will certainly not cause the kind of fuss that The Art of the Motorcycle did, both because the Champlain Valley is a much more laid-back place than Manhattan and because the Shelburne Museum is a wonderfully eclectic museum of fine, folk, and decorative arts, not a modernist palace of esoteric art. Full Throttle should, however, make the Shelburne a summer destination for every motorcycle club within 500 miles looking for a satisfying weekend ride. I predict some attendance records will be set.
One thing the Shelburne cycle show does have in common with the Guggenheim show is the fact that the motorcycles will be displayed in a round setting. Full Throttle will be featured on all three floors of the Shelburne’s iconic Round Barn gallery divided into three thematic sections. “Wide Open and Wild” will focus on racing motorcycles. “Classic Cool” will contain all the vintage Harleys, Triumphs, and Indians you’d ever want to see. And “Choppers” will appeal to all you “Easy Rider” fans.
Full Throttle will also have a strong regional bent, with motorcycles built by Dave Perewitz of Bridgewater, Mass., Tommy and Julie Graves of Jeffersonville, Vermont, Mike Palmer of Middlebury, Vermont, and Lock Baker of Branford, Connecticut. Bud Leonard of West Rutland, Vermont, loaned several of the vintage bikes, and Jim Hoellerich, founder of the Vintage Trail Bike Museum in Cheshire, Massachusetts, loaned 11 classic off-road trail bikes.
Motorcycles not your thing? Not to worry. There are often times when there’s nothing I really want to see at more august museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but there’s always something fun, entertaining, or instructive to see at the Shelburne, a true New England destination museum.
This summer, for instance, coincident with the motorcycle exhibition, the Shelburne museum will also mount eight other exhibitions, ranging from the fine to the folk to the fun. There will be an irreverent conceptual redesign of the interior of the museum’s Kalkin House by New York textile designer Richard Saja, as well as exhibitions of jewelry, lamps and furniture by Louis Comfort Tiffany, quilts by Florence Peto, hooked rugs by Patty Yoder, folk paintings by Warren Kimble, art from the collection of the late Thomas Church, transportation-related folk art, World War II-era handkerchiefs, and, World War II paintings by Ogden Pleissner.
If you want to see how art and design are integral to everyday life, the Shelburne Museum is a must-see.
[Shelburne Museum, U.S. Route 7, Shelburne VT, 802-985-3346]