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Future Retro: Drawings from the Great Age of American Automobiles

Organized by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

January 12, 2013 - March 24, 2013

Automotive design began as a simple evolution from the horse and carriage; initially a form and function proposition, design started to change as a result of the 1925 Art Deco fair in Paris. The importance of style took hold in the consciousness of the buying public, and by the 1940’s, the significance of sophisticated design in the manufacture of a car became paramount.

The evolution slowed during war times, as manufacturing focus was placed on military efforts. Many design staff were called up to service; a Cadillac plant in Detroit began turning out tanks less than eight weeks after the last 1942 model car came off the line. In the years following World War II, the American Dream took shape. A vision of prosperity emerged, one that included the perfect family, a modern home, and the ownership of a vehicle. This was the new American way of life; it presented an opportunity, and a thirsty market, for automotive manufacturers. The market was more sophisticated, World of Tomorrow exhibits at the 1939 World’s Fair were influential, and science fiction magazines and comics boomed in sales. The future was nothing short of an obsession, and the styling of rockets, bombs, and twin-tail airplanes dominated popular culture.

When war ended in Europe, manufacturers reactivated their design studios. The influence of a war era, a glimpse to the future, and a desire for sophisticated design permeated and in-house designers turned out illustrations as artistic as they were functional. The illustrations in the exhibition Future Retro, organized by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, are sourced from this golden age of automotive design. The illustrations and design proposals included in this exhibition present a vision of the future, rooted firmly in an era past.