Art and motorcycles: can motorcycles be art?  It’s a question posed long before the 1998 Art of the Motorcycle Guggenheim exhibit flung its doors open amid Gehry-designed splendor, and became their most popular exhibit in their history.  But the Art World – an amorphous culture absorbing penurious painters and billionaire corporate money launderers alike – deflects the question by leaning on a fine point of Beaux Arts distinction: it’s art versus design, people, meaning if an object has a function other than elevating the spirit or stimulating the senses, it is thrown onto the elegant slagheap called design.  But don’t get your panties twisted: design objects are venerated too, and always have been.  Before the standardized 19th C. Beaux Arts education laid down the laws on what is what in the arts (Fine vs. Applied), everything from suits of armor to tapestries to carriages to paintings were displayed side by side in the collections of the very wealthy, and the first museums – which were the same thing.

“Art exists and has existed in every known human culture and consists of objects, performances, and experiences that are intentionally endowed by their makers with a high degree of aesthetic interest.” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Despite the acknowledgement that motorcycles (and other vehicles) can be brilliant examples of industrial design, and that art + design exhibits and auctions are fairly common, I can find only one instance when the combo includes top shelf motorcycles + art + design: the ADAM sale happening tonight at Christie’s NYC.  There was another auction that came close: a Design Masters auction at Phillips in 2010 that botched sale of the very first Brough Superior SS100 prototype, when it was rumored the late Alain de Cadenet phoned in serious questions about the provenance of said Brough (to settle a score with its owner Mike Fitzsimons), which was then pulled from the sale at the very last minute.  So much for the experiment in rolling an exquisite and unique motorcycle into a fancy NYC auction house.  Perhaps the ADAM auction will fare better.

The Christie’s NYC auction rooms, right by Rockefeller Center, and the site of the ADAM sale. Note the Takashi  Murakami and Andy Warhol in the window. [Christie’s]
The ADAM of the Christie’s sale is Adam Lindemann, an important player in the NYC art scene via his gallery(s) Venus over Manhattan, his collecting habits, and his vocal support of cutting-edge art and design, e.g. the NFT by Beeple X Madonna included in this sale.  Adam is also a collector of fine motorcycles, including the exquisite 1974 Ducati 750SS sitting right now on the floor of the Christie’s NYC showroom, somewhere between an Alexander Calder mobile (‘Black Disc with Flags’, est. $5-7M), an Andy Warhol ‘Electric Chair’ silkscreen ($4-6M), and a Jeff Koons sculpture (‘Ushering in Banality, $2.5-3.5M). The estimate for the 750SS is a mere $125-175k, which is real-world pricing, and especially in this context should put paid to your anxiety that ‘motorcycles are getting expensive’.  I mean, you could buy a Jeff Koons ceramic pig for 20X that, but the Koons won’t get you anywhere if you sit astride it and twist its ears, nor will it make a glorious noise.  As I’ve always said, ‘you can’t ride a Rembrandt.’

Adam Lindemann with one of his prizes: a 1965 Dunstall Norton Atlas ordered new by the late tobacco heir Zach Reynolds: a unique machine! [Adam Lindemann]
But you can buy a motorcycle at Christie’s: a quick search of their database reveals dozens of lovely bikes sold in the past (where was I?).  Plus a lot of interesting work by ‘fine’ artists (pardon me, Ing. Taglioni – your work is more than fine) using motorcycle imagery, including a couple of Andy Warhols, several Japanese painters (Tanadori Yokoo!) and sculptors (Ushio Shinohara), and a bunch of famous photographers (David Wojnarowicz, Irving Penn, Alexander Rodchenko, etc), because we – meaning you, dear centaur – are so distinctive, we must be photographed.  I mean, who photographs automobilists as a species?  But I digress: let’s talk about this important and slightly dangerous experiment by the intriguing Adam Lindemann.

The 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport included in the ADAM sale. [Christie’s]
I’ve asked Adam Lindemann a few questions about his sale:

Paul d’Orléans (PDO): Are you excited about the sale?

Adam Lindemann (ADAM):  Honestly, it’s more like anxiety.  A friend suggested we go to a private room at Christie’s and drink champagne, and I said are you fucking high?

I put things in for ambience and to tell a story.  Theress someting to surprise and tickle everyone.  That’s what I like about art collecting – the story. 

PDO: Will you actually be in the room?

ADAM:  No, I’ll be sitting by my computer with a pencil, keeping track of how much things are selling for versus what I paid for them. I’ve never been in the room when I sold my (auction catalog) cover lots: when I sold my Jeff Koons cover lot, my Basquiat cover lot, etc. I was never in the room but it was never the ‘ADAM’ sale, so I was wondering if Adam has to be there for the ADAM sale? But the auction people told me no. At the end of the day, when the auction comes, it’s business.

The Ducati 750SS posed near Andy Warhol’s ‘Little Electric Chair’ (est. $4-6M). [Christie’s]
PDO:  Tell me about your curation of the sale: how did you choose what to sell from your collection?

ADAM:  A lot of the things I put in the sale for decoration, I put them in for ambience and to tell a story.  When you look at the auction, there’s something to surprise and tickle everyone. That was the idea – everybody gets tickled in a different way. There are two reasons for my selection: I like that the narrative. I like to tell stories. That’s what I like about collecting: art is a story, and I like to tell stories. That’s one part.  The second thing is this is a mid-season sale. This is dead time, the weakest moment in the New York auction cycle. So when I’m doing a single owner sale at a dead moment, it’s up to me to row the boat. I have to bring the eyeballs. I have to bring the attention. It’s not like the May auctions when there are 10 Picassos and a Jeff Koons bunny and everyone’s focused. This is like dead week. So I needed to throw in a lot of spicy lots like for color, for decor, and to look cool. I put very low estimates on the work because otherwise it’s a snoozer.

Billy Al Bengston’s ‘Gas Tank Tachometer’ (est. $50-70k). Read our story on Billy Al here. [Christie’s]
PDO: I noticed the estimate on the Billy Bengston seemed to be pretty low, but not outside the range of reason.

ADAM: Well, I must have paid $120,000 for that painting. I didn’t need to put it in the sale, but I put it in because he just died, and because I had the car thing going with the Richard Prince El Camino. If I put my estimate at what I paid, no one would bid, whereas if I put it in at $40 grand or whatever, and he just died, well, maybe somebody will go for it. But I would say that that piece is not there for the money. This sale is a historic moment for me, and I’ve sprinkled a little of the Billy Al Bengston cool on it, if that makes any sense.

PDO: That absolutely makes sense.

Ducati 750SS coyly displaying George Condo’s ‘Des Essientes Contemplating Artifice’ (est.$80-120k). [Christie’s]
ADAM: You know, the little George Condo didn’t need to be in the sale. The totem from Vanuatu doesn’t need to be there. The Jim Nutt drawing doesn’t need to be there. The Billy Al Bengston doesn’t need to be there.  Much of the design doesn’t need to be there. There’s a young artist that I got behind 10 years ago, Andra Arsuta: she’s been in the Venice Biennale twice and now she’s represented by David Zwirner. If her work sold for $100,000, I’d be happy. I’m not God, I want the money.  But I didn’t do include that work for the money.  In the grand scope of this sale, this is about a Warhol and a Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons and a Calder, and the other things are there to mix it up and to make it exciting. And also to show how these things fit into my life, to my way of seeing the world, what I’m into, and telling my story because every collector is different.  Just like you’re different –  you like pre-war British bikes, and I like post-war Italian, land it’s interesting to see what a person likes within the context of the art world.

PDO: So, let’s talk about the motorcycle: a 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport ‘green frame’, widely considered among the most beautiful motorcycles ever made.

No bad angles: the Ducati 750 Super Sport. [Christie’s]
ADAM: I put the Ducati in the sale because I’m a lifelong motorhead at this point.  I started riding motorcycles because of my mother – she wouldn’t let me ride. So, of course, I had to have a motorcycle!  I’ve always had vintage bikes because I guess I like headaches. So I’ve always had old bikes: I bought my Moto Guzzi V7 Telaio Rosso out of Classic Bike magazine 30 years ago, that’s the bike I’ve had in my collection the longest. Then I got into cars; cars of the seventies, Italians – Ferraris and Lamborghinis – and I wish I’d kept all that stuff, but I just bought them and drove them and sold them. And then I got into race cars. I was like, hey, I was a polo player, now I’ll be a race car driver. And so I bought a bunch of Jaguars from Bonhams and raced them at Goodwood and the LeMans Classique twice, and I’ve raced in the Monaco Grand Prix Historics and the Spa Six Hours I’ve won twice, and in the Sebring Classic, and I’ve podiumed at Daytona. So the Ducati is in the sale because it’s going to be in a whole new context. And to me it’s there as a design object. It’s no longer there as a motorcycle, it’s there the way I have the Jean Royére Polar Bear set, or the Charlotte Perriand table or the Pierre Paulin objects: it’s there as an object of design. And to me it’s industrial design, but it’s the most beautiful motorcycle. I’ve always loved it. Alright, I love Vincent too, I love Broughs, I’m not blind to them.  Listen, I love a great Triumph Bonneville, even though they made a million of them.

PDO:  But the Ducati ‘green frame’ is special.

Ducati with Alexander Calder’s ‘Black Disc with Flags’ (est. $5-7M). [Christie’s]
ADAM: The 750 ‘green frame’ to me is the Holy Grail of the seventies motorcycles. I think it’s the best.  About 30 years ago I bought one and used to love riding around on Sunday mornings at motorcycle get-togethers and I paid, I think, $17,500 for it and I was happy with it. It seemed like it was cheap, and one day I got wind that I had a fake. There was a guy in Connecticut who was basically taking 750 Sports and turning them into green frames and re-stamping them. I guess you get what you paid for. But years later, after having many 851SP3 Superbikes and Honda RC30s and Nortons,  it was still my favorite. So I got a fully documented, registered in the book, fully vetted by Ian Falloon example. This is still my favorite bike, and I think they’re cheap, they represent great value to me. It’s the Ferrari Spider California of motorcycles, and that’s worth, I don’t know what, $6 to $12 million, and you can buy the greatest motorcycle that ever lived for $200,000. Seems like great value to me.

PDO: I’ve already noted that, compared to just about all the other design/art in the sale, the motorcycle is cheap. I mean, it’s pinnacle design, and I agree with you, I think that particular model is undervalued.  Compared to something as crude as an Indian 8-Vavle or Cyclone or Crocker, all worth worth half a $Million. So, this gorgeously designed vehicle seems like a bargain to me. And by the way, I’m also a big Italian fan – I’ve owned a lot of bevel drives twins and singles, I love the design, especially the engine castings, superb.

ADAM:  So, this is a little moment in the motorcycle world.

Richard Prince’s ‘Untitled’, based on an El Camino (est. $400-600k). [Christie’s]
PDO: I can’t recall any fine art sale that included a motorcycle. I mean, the closest we had was that Philips auction in 2010 when Mike Fitzsimons put his Brough Superior SS100 prototype in a big contemporary design sale. Nobody’s really done it, despite the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit, etc.  Motorcycles have been included in design exhibitions, but never really with fine art. That’s fascinating to me.  So, Is this sale entirely your curation?  What were Christie’s thoughts on including the motorcycle?

ADAM: Well, I mean, Christie’s called it the ADAM sale, which is totally outrageous. The idea that anyone could be so pompous and ridiculous to call a sale by their name is like, wow.  So that’s all them.  The sale otherwise is all me, but they had the veto, right? They threw stuff out. As far as design, they asked for this and that and, and I included a lot of women because I wanted to be some balance of women and men. I didn’t want just a bunch of dudes. And then I decided to put in a motorcycle and not a race car or any kind of a car…although I do have a painted Richard Prince El Camino, which is amazing. So I have that and I put in the Billy Al Bengston and I have the ’89 car hood and then the motorcycle. Because as I said, it’s one of my first motorcycles and it’s one of my, it’s kind of my favorite: if I had to pick one, that’s the one. So to me, I just told a story, and motorcycles are more closely related to design. They have functionality.  I mean, a car is a chair with four wheels, and the motorcycle is a seat with two wheels. Its pared down to the essential design as much as possible. And I think that at the end of the day there’s more sex appeal in the motorcycle. It’s just more visceral. You sit on it, it’s between your legs. And so it told the story that I wanted to tell.

PDO: That’s fabulous – thank you!

ADAM: Oh, thank you. I’m so happy to be a small part of The Vintagent.

Pierre Paulin’s exquisite ‘Rosace’ table, designed c.1970 (est.$40-60k). [Christie’s]


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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