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Frist Center Hosts All-Star Assembly of Spectacular Italian Vehicles

NASHVILLE, TN – Opening May 27, 2016, at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945-1975 marks an unprecedented gathering of rare and stunning Italian-designed automobiles and motorcycles in a museum setting. The exhibition celebrates the streamlined elegance, novel and powerful engineering, and seductive allure characterizing Italian coach-built cars, concept cars, and motorcycles produced during the post-World War II economic revival. On view only at the Frist Center through October 9, 2016, Bellissima! boasts 22 extraordinary vehicles from private collections and museums that are now among the most sought-after collector cars in the world.

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Collection of Bernard and Joan Carl. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Collection of Bernard and Joan Carl. Image © 2016 Peter Harholdt
Returning to the Frist Center after the 2013 presentation of Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles, automotive authority and guest curator Ken Gross has chosen 19 automobiles and 3 motorcycles for Bellissima!. Moving from one gem to another, visitors will experience the creative connections and brilliant design language that helped propel Italy to the global forefront of the automotive world. “While providing a reminder of the role aesthetics can play in our daily lives, the exhibition also shows design excellence as a force that can transform a nation, in this case one that had recently been humbled by war, but which never lost its love for artistic expression in all aspects of life,” said Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala. “Tied to an age in which graceful aerodynamics provided an optimistic language of the future, these vehicles are quite simply astonishing on both a visual and technical level.”

Highlights include the ultra-rare trio of mid-1950s Alfa Romeo Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnicas, known as BATs, whose curvaceous fins and tapered tails suggest the curving wings and bullet-like bodies of bats in flight. The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO is considered by design critic and exhibition catalogue contributor Robert Cumberford to be “the most desirable of all sports cars ever made.” The game-changing Lamborghini Miura, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a technical tour de force and as Ken Gross writes in the exhibition catalogue, “resembles a stiletto on cast magnesium wheels.”

Lesser-known vehicles in the exhibition will offer surprises for even the most knowledgeable car aficionados. The drastically slender 1970 Lancia Stratos’ mere 33-inch-tall wedge-shaped body has doors that open vertically rather than swinging outward. The futuristic, arrow-shaped 1955 Ghia Gilda, named for Rita Hayworth’s slinky character in the film Gilda, has an elongated hood, snug cockpit, pointy rear fenders and jet-like engine whine that evoke advanced aircraft design.

The motorcycles on display are the 1957 Moto Guzzi V-8 “Otto,” a bike revered for its exceptional speed and radical “dustbin” fairing concealing its 8-cylinder engine; a 1973 MV Agusta 750 Sport, widely considered “the Ferrari of motorcycles” for its race-bred handling, brash aesthetics, and thrilling exhaust “music”; and the 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport that, as Gross said, “catapulted the status of the small Bolognese firm from interesting to legendary.”

Historical Background

The post-World War II economic revival in Italy, known as “The Italian Economic Miracle” (il miracolo economico), was a nationwide rebirth driven by innovation in the design of automobiles, architecture, fashion, and furniture. In Italy’s wartime economy, there was little demand for luxury vehicles, but when hostilities ceased, the country’s prewar passion for road and track racing rebounded with tremendous energy. “Wartime work in aeronautics helped Italian engineers and designers develop familiarity with aerodynamics, lightweight construction, exotic metals, and technologies such as multicamshaft high-revving engines and power-enhancing superchargers,” said Gross.

Events such as the Mille Miglia – a thousand-mile road race from Brescia to Rome and back – attracted competitors from across Europe and the United States. Italian cars fared well, inspiring new firms like Cisitalia and Ferrari to produce road-going vehicles that had the sleek, low-slung design and powerful engines of racecars. Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Lancia, Maserati, and smaller Italian carmakers followed suit, with carrozzerie (coachbuilders) like Allemano, Boano, Ghia, Pinin Farina, Touring, and Vignale building limited-production car bodies for Italian domestic manufacturers. American, British, and Spanish companies hired such carrozzerie to design streamlined bodies for their own markets.

About Guest Curator Ken Gross

Automotive authority Ken Gross has served as guest curator for numerous exhibitions of extraordinary automobiles in fine art museums, including the Frist Center’s first auto show, Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles, in the summer of 2013. For 2016, Gross reprised Sensuous Steel for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston which presented it as Sculpted in Steel: Art-Deco Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1929-1940.

In 2014, Gross received the Automotive Hall of Fame’s Distinguished Service Citation, the Lorin Tryon Trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Ken Purdy award (with Peter Harholdt) for the Sensuous Steel catalogue from the International Motor Press Association and the coveted Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award from the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles. He received the Lee Iacocca Award and the IAMA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Along with exhibition catalogues, Gross’s 15 automotive books include Vintage Cars, Hot Rods and Custom Cars: Los Angeles and The Dry Lakes, So-Cal Coupe, Art of the Hot Rod, Milestone Hot Rods, The Illustrated BMW Buyer’s Guide, and Ferrari 250GT SWB. Gross co-wrote Rockin’ Garages in 2013, with Tom Cotter. He is also the writer of Behind the Headlights, an acclaimed SPEED/TV series.

Additional information is available by calling 615.244.3340 or by visiting