“Is the Honda Civic the Best We Can Do?” Asks Russell Flinchum

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By Stephanie Murg Comment

zoom.jpg Last night, our favorite Henry Dreyfuss expert (and D-Crit faculty member) Russell Flinchum wrapped up “The Automobile Aesthetically Considered,” his automatic, systematic, and hydromatic course on the history of car design at the Museum of Modern Art, leaving students to ponder how today’s designers and car companies can create stylish, efficient-to-produce cars that will reach a mass audience. “I think that they face a near-impossible task in trying to design a functional and stylistic success at a time of deadly competition,” Flinchum told us. “But then, Pontiac would have died without the intervention of Frank Hershey in 1933. So I think a lot of this has direct bearing on today’s scene, presuming you buy into that whole relevance of history thing.”

Flinchum developed the five-week course with an eye to balancing a general survey approach with a more in-depth look at the post-WWII scene in the United States, highlighting two MoMA exhibitions: “8 Automobiles” (1951) and “10 Automobiles” (1953). Among all of the designers discussed, his hands-down favorite is General Motors veteran Strother “Mac” MacMinn, who Flinchum had the good fortune to meet. “He gave me a ride in his [Jaguar] XK120 and told me about seeing Billie Holiday perform in New York during a very brief stint here in the early 1950s,” he says. “And Mac made it quite clear that she was singing to him on that evening, and having seen pics of him from that era, I believe that to be entirely plausible.” As for which of the more celebrated figures he prefers, Flinchum says that it’s a toss-up between Hershey and Bill Mitchell. “It’s like trying to choose between Romanesque and Gothic–why would you?”