Strange and wonderful things are coming to the Petersen Automotive Museum.
The Miracle Mile facility, devoted to the art and science of four-wheeled vehicles, will host its first-ever exhibit dedicated to the art of custom motorcycles.
The “Custom Revolution” show will begin a one-year run April 14. It will include about 25 motorcycles, from 25 different bike builders, representing the best of what’s known as “alt custom” design.
The show will be guest-curated by motorcycle historian Paul d’Orleans, founder of the Vintagent website and respected author of multiple books on motorcycle design and culture.
The exhibit will feature motorcycles that have never been seen together. Many have never been exhibited in a museum space.
D’Orleans, who is also a columnist for Cycle World magazine, said he hoped the show would demonstrate the degree to which “outsider” motorcycle design is actually leading the motorcycle industry.
“Every motorcycle history ever written has been driven by factory histories, but in fact it has been the creativity of custom designers and racers that has always been the leading edge,” D’Orleans said. “Factories follow, not the other way around.”
The Petersen has included some motorcycles in its permanent exhibit since the late 2015 remodel and reopening. Many key Petersen board members, in fact, are keen motorcyclists — including Bruce Meyer and Richard Varner.
Petersen personnel hope that attendees drawn by the motorcycle exhibit will be exposed to automotive arts and that car fans might have their consciousness raised about motorcycles.
“People may forget that the first motorized vehicles were actually motorcycles,” said Varner, who is also the Petersen treasurer and chief financial officer of MotoAmerica. “Everything that you love about the automobile probably started as technology on a motorcycle.”
Bryan Stevens, the museum’s creative and exhibitions director, said that although motorcycles may seem a departure for the Petersen, this exhibit is in keeping with its overall credo.
“In all our exhibits we try to look for cultural crossover, and this is a phenomenon that melds motorcycles and art and even fine art, as well as engineering and fabrication,” Stevens said. “Many of these motorcycles are meant not to be driven but to be contemplated, like an art piece.”
Stevens said the seeds of the exhibit were planted in the early 2000s, when he was living in downtown Los Angeles not far from the garage where Barry was building his now-famous Falcon motorcycles.
Stevens’ interest in alt custom bikes was further fueled by the website Bikeexif.com, the online bible of motorcycle art, and by a series of books called “The Ride,” to which D’Orleans has contributed.
Besides, Stevens said, the art of the alt custom motorcycle is also a homegrown Los Angeles product.
“It’s a global phenomenon now, but it has a definite L.A. component,” he said. “Some of the most significant bike builders are from here.”
D’Orleans, who as author of the book “The Chopper: The Real Story” is considered an authority on that kind of custom motorcycle, said there will be no bikes of that sort at the Petersen show.
“That’s not part of the vision for this exhibit,” D’Orleans said. “So there won’t be anything from Arlen Ness or Jesse James.”
Entrance to the exhibit is included with a general admission ticket — $16 for adults, $13 for seniors and students, $8 for children — which can be purchased online or at the museum.