Thursday, September 1, 2011

Art of the Chopper display in Kansas City's Union Station showcases exquisite workmanship and creativity

I’ve always been more of a car guy that a motorcycle freak, but I can certainly appreciate fine workmanship and creativity when I see it. And did I see it. Kansas City’s Union Station is hosting the Art of the Chopper display for a limited engagement, and we spent some time checking out the beautiful custom bikes under gallery-quality lighting.

This exhibit took place in the same area as they had the Princess Diana stuff, the Dinosaurs Unleashed thing, and other similar displays. And the one thing it had in common with all of those other displays was that it was expensive. We’re talking $12.50 for each adult ticket, and $9.50 for kids. That ain’t chump change, Charlie. And that was really the reason it took me so long to get there. At least there was a slight discount if you ate at the Harvey House upstairs.

Now, I really like Union Station. The main hall is beautiful, and I can never get over the ornate ceilings when I go there. There isn’t all that much going on, so from a practical standpoint it just looks like a huge, wasted space to me, but it is a pretty space, so that’s worth something. I actually remember before the dazzling restoration there used to be a car museum in there. That sounds like a good plan to me again—someone needs to get on that!

Anyway, back to the motorcycles. They call them “art,” and that’s for good reason. Some of them, heck, maybe all of them undoubtedly run. But most of them look extremely uncomfortable, and vulnerable to any little hazard on the road. These are strictly look-but-don’t-touch affairs. They’re unabashed eye candy. And you can tell that the artists who built them were pushing their creative limits.

Some of it was what you might have expected. There was the requisite supply of skulls, iron crosses, and tribal flame art. But what you might not have expected was the radical, and sometimes exquisite workmanship that accompanied the old standards.

Some of the fuel tank shapes looked like they were inspired by the natural flow of wind across a sand dune. The fine etched scrolling in many of the mechanical parts reminds you of craftsmanship last seen in the 1920s. Similar elements are mimicked in the ornate leather seats. Forks and handlebars were all carefully fashioned to be design elements, not just necessary bits required to operate a motorcycle. Frames were shaped—no, sculpted—in unnaturally natural shapes that Harley Davidson never dreamed of. These bikes were downright pretty.

In addition to the bikes themselves, there were some fancy fuel tanks painted up and hanging on the walls. There was also a neat little garage display that gave you sort of a fictitious look at where these machines may have been built. Finally, the walls were lined with very nice framed studio photos of these bikes, taken by exhibit curator Tom Zimberoff.

And speaking of photos, I have a few to share with you too in the slideshow below. No, they aren’t worth matting, framing, and hanging on the wall, but you can see what’s in the display without paying twelve-and-a-half a head. I really did enjoy looking at these, though. And my wife and son got a real kick out of it too.

The exhibit was actually supposed to end a month ago, but was extended until September 25. So you still have a little more time to see it in person. For more information, visit

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