Here’s an exhibition that’ll drive you to distraction


Here’s an exhibition that’ll drive you to distraction

Cars, a new show at the V&A in London, nimbly straddles both the serious and lighthearted lanes

Cal Revely-Calder

Cars are a guilty pleasure. They used to be symbols of freedom and speed, but those joys aren’t unsullied any more. At opposite ends of Cars, a new exhibition at the V&A in London, two screens tell different truths: one shows the number of vehicles built in 2019 (68,588,056, at time of writing), the other the number of oil barrels left in the world ​(1,525,851,726,857). One ticks up, one ticks down.

“Each day,” boasts an advert from 1962, “Humble Oil supplies enough energy to melt seven million tons of glacier!” Happier times.

The show is a blend of aesthetics and history. There are 250 objects on display, and the best have the glamour of the interwar years. Seek out the sketches by Jeanne Paquin, for instance, of 1920s motoring couture, or the sleek glass “mascots” of falcons and greyhounds, designed to be lit from below. Spaced around the exhibition are 15 vehicles – no, you can’t get in – which include an 1888 Benz Patent-Motorwagen 3, the first mass-production car, and a 1924 Citroën autochenille, fitted with tracks for a 20,000-km desert trek...

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