Hi Ultan. How did you hear about the Motorcycle Film Festival?
My friend Paul d'Orleans told me about it. Then you kindly asked me to be a judge! I couldn't say no.
You curated the quintessential motorcycle exhibition. Can you tell us what drew you to assemble "The Art of the Motorcycle"?
Coming to the end of the 20th century, museums all over the world were trying to do definitive exhibitions on various aspects of art in the 20th century. Thomas Krens [then director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation] decided to go another direction and do a design exhibition. He had long wanted to do an exhibition about motorcycles, so when the opportunity arose, he asked me to curate. My first call was to my friend, Professor Charles Falco, a physicist at the University of Arizona, whom I knew had the best collection of printed materials on motorcycles. Since I knew any exhibition would have to have proper academic under-pinning, and since I also knew that the myths about motorcycles and their development far outweighed the facts, Charles was the perfect collaborator. So we were co-curators of The Art of the Motorcycle (AoTM).
What got you into motorcycles?
My first bike was an NSU Quickly, a 50cc moped from Germany. Very nice bike. Only thing was, no one told me that I had to mix oil in the gas and it seized on my fifth lap of our orchard in Dublin. I was 12!
That's a long way to working with Frank Gehry, architect of the iconic Guggenheim Bilbao, to design the exhibition in New York and at the Guggenheim Bilbao. The design helped capture the spirit of motorcycling. How did that evolve and happen?
I have been incredibly lucky to have worked with Frank Gehry now for over twenty years. I first met Frank in Bilbao, at the signing of the contract to build the Guggenheim Bilbao.
When it came to the design of the motorcycle exhibition, Krens felt that Gehry perfectly understood the combination of pop culture and pure aesthetic that are encapsulated in the best motorcycle design, so he asked him to do it. Gehry's project architects on the AoTM were Edwin Chan and Michelle Kaufmann, who have both gone on to have stellar architecture careers. Frank, with Edwin and Michelle, created these beautiful and dynamic installation designs, my favorite of which was the one in Bilbao. The exhibition in Bilbao was the first time Frank Gehry designed an exhibition in one of his own buildings, although he has gone on to do several since then.
And then, you've been part of some of the most renowned art and architecture films. What do you look for and what are you trying to convey when doing a film?
Story. Story. Story. It's the most important thing for any film, particularly documentary. With architecture, the buildings can't speak—although they can be eloquent in other ways—so you rely on people to tell the stories.
What are you looking for when watching films?
Entertainment. Information. A few laughs never go amiss!
Do you have a favorite motorcycle and motorcycle film?
Motorcycle, my 2004 Ducati Monster 1000. I also have a couple of Norton Commandos, one of which was in the AoTM, but I'd happily swap both for a Norton 500T or a Matchless G80CS!
Film, hands down The Great Escape. Charles Falco and I have ridden in the Munster Rally many times. Held in County Kerry, Ireland, it is for bikes 1960 or older. It brings riders from all over the world. One of those was Bud Ekins, who rode at the Munster every year. As everyone knows, Bud did the jump in the Great Escape for Steve McQueen. We became great friends with Bud and were very sad to lose him a few years ago.
What's next in the pipeline?
An airlock that I'm working to clear!