As a car enthusiast, I tend to look at the sale of the BAT cars at Thursday’s “Modern & Contemporary Art” auction in New York as something very significant for the automobile and the world of collecting as a whole. It should however be remembered that a 1954 table designed by Carlo Mollino, a well-known architect and designer who, among his various projects, created the “Bisiluro” asymmetric car in 1955 that went on to compete at Le Mans, was sold for $6.2 million, three times its estimate and new world record for a piece of design. In my opinion, these are the signs of a natural tendency to meet artistic and design excellence, which, more and more, seems destined to involve the car.
The three BAT cars have been exhibited twice together at Pebble Beach to extraordinary acclaim.
The sale of the BAT “Triptych” (I have stolen the word from art) is without question a turning point for our world (even if a few years ago a Formula 1 Ferrari was sold at the same auction) also because the BAT car trilogy was the top lot of anart auction and by no means let the side down. What puzzles me, however, was the decision to offer them in between paintings by Banksy and Jasper Johns when, in my opinion, they would have appealed more to a collector of Giacometti and de Chirico, lots offered in the second part of the evening. But that’s just a detail.
Together with the BAT cars at the Sotheby’s auction in New York, another design object set a new record: this important and unique table by Carlo Mollino.
There’s only one question left to answer: who would I see as a buyer? I would like this triptych to return to the Alfa Romeo Museum but perhaps that’s more a romantic vision than a pragmatic one. I see that many American contemporary art museums have considerable economic resources (the Mollino came from one of them) and so I would also like to see them gracing the halls of the Guggenheim or the MoMA in New York. The image of a country is built upon its ability to do things and, with these cars, Italy sends out a powerful and unequivocal message. I certainly wouldn’t want them to end up in some hyper-armoured vault of a Hong Kong tycoon or someone from Silicon Valley, who wouldn’t want to show to avoid devaluing their “investment” until they reappear once more...
The Italian designer Carlo Mollino also designed automobiles: the most celebrated of which was the Bisiluro which raced at Le Mans in 1955.
An unforgettable moment in the history of the three Alfa Romeo BAT cars. The award ramp at Pebble Beach in 1989 in the presence of Nuccio Bertone in person.
Automobiles as art? Yes, when the observer is enchanted by feelings that go beyond the objectivity of the moment.
CLASSIC CAR MATCHER