J Mays Gets his MA at MOCA

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To some, the automobile is little more than an appliance. To others, it is art. A new exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art focusing on the works of designed J Mays is designed to show that the car is a bit of both.

Mays T-BirdToday the head of styling at Ford Motor Co., Mays has penned some groundbreaking designs for a number of manufacturers over the years, most notably Volkswagen, where he was responsible for the New Beetle, as well as a contributor to the sleek Audi TT. The unusual MOCA exhibit attempts to use Mays’ work to not only illustrate the artistic side of automotive design, but also to give the public a sense of what is involved in taking a car from concept to production.

As a bit of a bonus, Mays and his Ford design team have put together the MA, a concept car developed specifically as the centerpiece of the MOCA show.

2000 Ford 021C Concept “I’ve been adamant in breaking down walls between automotive design and the rest of the design world,” says Mays, recalling a project he sponsored which gave Marc Newson, the celebrated British product designer, the chance to design his first car. Dubbed the 021C, it debuted at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show.
The Los Angeles exhibit could further blur the boundaries, according to Mays. “When you look at this, you ask whether it’s art or transportation.” That feeling is enhanced by the unusual approach the museum took when quite literally hanging the exhibition.

Initial plans called for MOCA to show some of Mays’ more conventional artwork, as well as his automotive designs. That was dropped because of concerns “we would lose the scope of what the exhibit was about,” explains the farm-bred design director. So the MOCA show focuses exclusively on the automotive designs Mays has penned during his career, much of it spent as an expatriate in Europe.

The show includes the Beetle, the Ford Thunderbird, the retro-styled GT40 and the elegant, silver Audi Avus. Many of the vehicles were actually installed at the museum’s downtown L.A. facility, though unfortunately not the Avus.

2000 Ford 24.7 Truck It’s clear the organizers weren’t afraid of kicking off a little controversy by including the 24.7. Looking more like something from a videogame than a running automobile, it was not particular well received. But as Mays asserts, that particular project, which premiered at the Detroit auto show in January 2000, was meant to serve as a technology showpiece, rather than an exercise in design.

2002 Ford MA ConceptMays almost gleefully anticipates the MA concept car will generate even more controversy. “It’s kind of an art vehicle” that wouldn’t really find a place in a conventional auto show,” he notes. But it was perfect for a show like this because it “combines minimalist design (with) a vision of what a car of the future might look like.”

The Contemporary Art Museum curators weren’t content with simply showing cars and car sketches. The MA, for example, is shown in both final and deconstructionist forms. The various pieces that went into the prototype are hung on the walls, in a way that reminds you of the way pieces of a plastic model car before they’re put together.

Even with more conventional projects, like the Beetle and Thunderbird, the exhibition attempts to take visitors insider the product development process, showing the very steps that designers go through to finally put their ideas into production.

The J Mays exhibition can be seen in the Geffen Wing of the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art, and will remain on display through March 9, 2003.

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