If you’ve ever visited a museum and left feeling like you didn’t get to fully appreciate every detail of a particular exhibit, you’re not alone. Many times we’ve departed museums with a mixture of feelings, like being totally overwhelmed by the sheer number of pieces on hand and feeling like we didn’t scratch the surface of what an exhibit truly had to offer. There’s a new exhibit in Nashville, Tennessee that offers a completely different experience. The display, entitled Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance, 1945–1975, is open through October 9, 2016 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
What’s different about this exhibit at the Frist? Their emphasis is on the quality, not necessarily the quantity, of cars on hand. Walking through the beautiful, almost 90-year-old building, we found fewer than 20 cars on display that were hand-picked by guest curator and acclaimed historian, Ken Gross. As you will see if you take the tour, this isn’t a huge display — but these are some of the most fascinating and beautiful cars you’ll ever lay eyes on. Prepare to spend the better part of an afternoon soaking up all the details.
When we started the tour of the exhibition, it didn’t take long before our jaws dropped. We were immediately greeted by a trio of outrageously-styled Alfa Romeo BAT cars that never cease to amaze. Designed by the young Franco Scaglione of the Bertone design house, the Alfa Romeo 1900-based show cars were created for researching the effects of aerodynamic drag on a vehicle. Their bizarre styling was just as striking in the Bellissima! exhibit as it must have been in the early 1950s.
That first exhibit was jam-packed with intriguing details. One could literally spend hours studying the obscure shapes and imagining Scaglione’s creative impetus for designing these fantastic cars. Once we successfully completed the first room, we were met in the next with three important machines that many car collectors would dream to own: to our left, a blood-red 1955 Maserati A6G 2000 Zagato; to our right, a 1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic; and sandwiched in the middle, a tiny 1950 Cisitalia 202 SC dressed in shade that could likened to a dill pickle. A fun room, indeed.
We could have assumed our trip to the Frist was complete after visiting the next room — but no. We have to give credit to the creative director of The Frist for having the courage to put the beautifully-decorated Ferrari 250 GTO only halfway through the exhibit. The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, chassis 3387 GT with a gorgeous shade of metallic blue is known to be the second GTO ever built. It is also credited for its second-place overall finish at the 1962 12 Hours of Sebring race with Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien at the helm.
After we regained our composure from the GTO room, we moved on to the next room, knowing that any other exhibit would pale in comparison to the GTO — which is why it was well-played by The Frist to move away from automobiles temporarily and feature their two-wheeled display. We witnessed some of Italy’s finest pieces of motorcycle history, with none other than a 1957 Moto Guzzi V-8, 1973 MV Agusta 750 Sport, and 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport. (Yes, you read that right — Moto Guzzi “V-8”.)
As if we weren’t already at a loss for words, the next room — back to automobiles — featured amazing details and interesting design studies. Upon entering, our eyes were immediately drawn to the less-than-subtle 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis clothed in its bright orange paint. From there, it only got better with a slew of gorgeous cars: a 1955 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 S; a deep blue 1961 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Pininfarina Series II Aerodinamico, a delicious 1952 Lancia B52 Aurelia PF200 Spider; a 1963 Chrysler Turbine car; and finally, a 1952 Cunningham C3 Continental.
At that point, we were exhausted by the shock of all we’d seen thus far. And yet, there was more to be had. The next room housed the outrageous Gilda — the 1955 Chrysler Ghia Gilda, to be specific — followed by the bizarre 1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero. Accompanying these two greats were the 1966 Ferrari 365 P Tre Posti and a stunning, white 1968 Bizzarrini 5300 Strada. Finally, what Italian display of design would be complete without the fabulous Lamborghini Miura? The model on hand was a slinky red 1970 Miura P400 S.
The last room of the Bellissima! Italian car exhibition wowed us with the oh-so-beautiful, 1963 ATS 2500 GT. This car is a product of the less-than-successful ATS brand (which stands for Automobili Turismo e Sport), started by an ex-Ferrari chief engineer, Carlo Chiti. It is a stunning piece and was the ATS show car for the 1963 Geneva Motor Show, where it proudly displayed its Franco Scaglione-styled bodywork.
There you have it. In our opinion, the Frist pulled off a fabulous display, and it is definitely worthy of your travel and time. With their special attention to light and space, they did these special automobiles justice. Let’s hope this trend of automobile-centric exhibitions continues in museums worldwide; not only does it help to educate future generations, it allows enthusiasts like ourselves to experience incredible cars we would never have gotten to behold otherwise.