The Bicycle as Art

By Mike Green

June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 23, 2007 at 8:12 PM EDT

(Fort Wayne) -- It's a relentless portrait of grief. How could it be anything else -- an exhibit of war photographs taken by photographers who were killed in action in Vietnam. The requiem exhibit at Fort Wayne's Art Museum has many lessons to teach -- hard and important lessons. But if you need a break from them when you visit, there is a pleasant break to be had, not a stones throw away.

"That was the end of American innocence in a way, and in a way we're celebrating that in a slightly lighter fashion on this side of the gallery," said the museum's Charles Shepard.

Welcome to the "Bike Shop," a pleasurable stroll -- or pedal -- through all the artistic possibilities in America's favorite form of transportation. We may think the automobile reigns supreme in the USA. But ask any grownup his or her first transportation love, the answer will almost always be 'the bike I had as a kid'.

"They all have a real sentimental view toward their bike," Shepard said. "It's just an innocent time and you had that great freedom."

For most of us the bicycle was that first real step away from home. It meant freedom to go anywhere, anytime -- the park, the ball game, the creek. The bike wasn't a toy -- it was a ticket to freedom. And because of that the bicycle, it turns out, is a great subject for all forms of art -- sculpture, photography, printmaking. This is Chicago artist Jack Canny's sculptural tribute to the front yard of a house he passed going to school each day -- the yard littered with old bike parts. And Fort Wayne artist Jason Roberts actually uses the bicycle as his canvas. This is his tribute to the Beatles 'Yellow Submarine.' This is the Homer Simpson bike.

"What we're trying to do is stretch the boundaries of what's fine art, open people up who might think they don't' like fine art, to the idea that fine art encompasses a lot of things in your life in ways you've never thought about," explained Shepard.

This really is a family show -- weird stuff and hot wheels for the kids, classic bikes of the 1950's and '60's for dad or grandpa. Because the bicycle is a childhood event we all share, it transcends generations. And how many of those are around anymore?

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