Orlando museum riding high with book, bike exhibits

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Given the monumental success of its theme parks, Orlandos other attractions are often overlooked. But for those in the know, there is plenty to do in the city beyond Universal Studios-Islands of Adventure and Disney World, including satisfying a craving for culture and the arts.

In 1924, decades before Walt Disney discovered central Florida, a group of artists in Orlando started the Orlando Museum of Art, and it remains a high point on the cultural landscape of Florida, having earned generous praise from a variety of publications, including Newsweek, the New York Times, Art in America, ArtNews and American Art Review.

The museum will be presenting two exhibitions that are worthy of note to visitors to Orlando during the next few months. From May 13 through Aug. 13, the OMA will host a show called Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Mister Seahorse and Other Friends: The Wonderful World of Eric Carle, featuring the graphic work of Eric Carle, the author and illustrator of childrens books. 

The show will feature more than 40 of Carles original works, which appeared in books he created over his 35-year career, such as Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See?, The Very Quiet Cricket and The Grouchy Ladybug.

Though the books were created to appeal to preschoolers, the real secret of their success was that the artwork, as well as the quirky story lines, were also appealing to parents. Extracted from book pages and seen in their original form, which is much larger and more tactile than was represented in the books, the illustrations are striking and stand up well on their own.

A native of Germany, Carle is known for his use of very bright colors, which he said was a reaction to the drab colors he remembers from his childhood. He developed a distinctive and audacious collage style using hand- painted tissue paper cut and pasted in layers to form the images of his characters.

Riders, easy and otherwise

But not all artwork is mounted on walls. The OMA is also hosting a collection of motorcycles in an exhibit called The Art of the Motorcycle, which will run through July 23.

Not just for motorcycle fans, the show takes a look into cycles both as design products and as cultural icons, and explores their impact on American culture of the 20th century.

Based on a 1998 show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the exhibit will feature 79 motorcycles chosen for mechanical innovation, aesthetic excellence and cultural significance.

The influence of the motorcycle on culture actually pre-dates the 20th century. The oldest of the motorcycles on display is the Copeland Steam from 1884, based on a bicycle design that was popular at the time, with a huge front wheel.

The first of several successful steam-powered motorcycles, the Copeland Steam was designed by a musician, and its steam engine was constructed from whatever parts the inventor could pull together, including his wifes knitting needles, the float from a toilet tank and part of a cornet.

Other motorcycles featured in the exhibition include the Orient from 1900, the first commercially produced motorcycle in the U.S.; the Cyclone Board Tracker of 1914, known as the yellow speed demon and purportedly the fastest bike of its period; and the BMW R32 of 1923, with a sleek, German Bauhaus-influenced design.

Also in the show: the Easy Rider Chopper from 1993, a replica of the lost original from the 1969 film Easy Rider with Peter Fonda; and the Italian MV Agusta F4 from 1998, designed by Massimo Tamburini in collaboration with Italian automaker Ferrari.

The show -- which also includes motorcycles from Indian, Triumph, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha -- is broken into sub-exhibitions based on chronological periods:

  • Inventing the Motorcycle: 1868-1919, looks at motorcycles in the context of the major innovations of the time, including the railroad, electricity and cinema.

  • The Machine Age: 1922-1929 examines the emergence of a machine aesthetic.

  • New World Orders: 1930-1944 follows the progression of the machine ethos of the 1920s.

  • Freedom and Postwar Mobility: 1946-1958 looks at motorcycles as instruments of escape from conformist postwar society.

  • Popular Culture/Counterculture: 1959-1969 looks at the motorcycle in the context of the rebellious 1960s, rock music and street protests. 

  • Getting Away From It All: 1969-1981 shows the motorcycle in the context of the malaise of the 1970s.
  • The exhibition then follows the motorcycle to the present with The Consumer Years: 1982-1989 and Retro/Revolutionary: 1990-2004.

    Admission to the museum is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, students and active military personnel; $5 for children ages 6 to 18; and free for kids under 5. Advance-sale tickets are available for $12.50. For more, call (407) 896-4231 or visit www.omart.org.

    To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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