Perhaps more than any other single object of industrial design, the motorcycle can be considered a metaphor for the 20th century. Predating the automobile by 25 years and the airplane by 36, the motorcycle was the first form of personal mechanized transport to emerge from the beginning of the industrial age; its subsequent evolution follows the main currents of modernity.

Guggenheim_Las_Vegas_-Art_of_the_Motorcycle-_Panorama_1The juxtaposition of the 1868 Michaux-Perreaux and the 1998 MV Agusta F4 presents the scope of The Art of the Motorcycle. In the 130-year span demarcated by these machines, sea changes have occurred in every aspect of the world’s cultures, politics, and economies. The three criteria for the selection of the motorcycles in the exhibition–aesthetic and design excellence, technological innovation, and social impact–are distillations of the factors that have defined and characterized the 20th century.

e715603French engineer Pierre Michaux was the leading bicycle innovator of the 19th century. With his friend Louis-Guillaume Perreaux, Michaux succeeded in attaching a small steam engine to one of his velocipedes in 1868, creating the first motorized bicycle. It made a short run (reaching, it is said, a maximum speed of 19 mph), proving that the concept could work. At the other end of the continuum, Massimo Tamburini’s new MV Agusta F4 affirms this great Italian designer’s position at the cutting edge of high-tech, sporting motorcycle design. Tamburini’s design consummates a 1990s marriage of deliberate sex appeal, the romance of the MV Agusta name, and the highest level of technological achievement: the rider of this motorcycle can reach speeds of over 170 mph.1951_Imme_R100_Motorcycle_For_Sale_Curved_Profile_resize

The motorcycle is an immortal cultural icon that changes with the times. More than speed, it embodies the abstract themes of rebellion, progress, freedom, sex, and danger. The limits imposed by its possible forms and functions, and the breadth of variation that has been expressed within these limitations, provide a framework in which to examine the motorcycle both as object and as emblem of our century.