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A look inside the Columbus Centennial exhibit of cycling and art

Perhaps no bicycle manufacturer has bridged the bicycle and art as steadfastly as the Columbus steel tubing company.

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Antonio Colombo, head of Columbus and Cinelli, may be in pandemic lockdown, like all Italians. But that isn’t stopping the industry legend from reflecting on his other passion — modern art. From his apartment in downtown Milan, Colombo, an avid art collector and gallery owner, is putting the final touches on his third exhibit celebrating the centennial of legendary Columbus steel tubing company, one that simply celebrates cycling and art. Here, we have a sneak peek at the bicycles and images that will be on display. 

Cinelli Laser with hand painted disc whees. Photo: Keith Haring

Throughout the 20th century, the bicycle was a common motif in the history of modern art. The bicycle was celebrated in Cubism, and Futurism as a modern tool in the early 1900s, while street artists like Keith Haring celebrated its timeless forms in the late 20th century.

Moser hour record bike on display at Colombo gallery. Photo: Colombo gallery.

Perhaps no bicycle manufacturer has bridged the bicycle and art as steadfastly as the Columbus steel tubing company. This year, as the company celebrates its own centennial, Antonio Colombo, the son of founder Angelo, has organized several exhibits in Milan to focus not only on the company’s history, but the historic relationship of cycling and art.

Antonio Colombo
Antonio Colombo. Photo: James Startt

Growing up in the 1960s, Antonio fell in love with modern art and, before he took over the family business, would travel the world to study it. Soon enough he began collecting, developing a personal relationship with many contemporary artists, and eventually opened his own Antonio Colombo Arte Contempranea gallery, in Milan, in the late 1990s.

Throughout 2019 and 2020, a series of exhibits entitled Columbus Continuum focuses on different aspects of the company’s relationship to cycling and art.

The first exhibit Flessibili Splendori: Columbus and Tubular furniture, that opened last fall, focused on the prevalent use of the company’s highly reputed steel tubing in modern furniture design, as the company had a close working relationship with the German-led Bauhaus school between the world wars.

Cinelli Supercorsa. Photo: RVCA Barry McGee, 2008 (2)

Pioneering designers like Michael Breuer relied heavily on the bicycle tubes as the foundation of his historic chairs. Today several models like the Cesca and Wassily chairs can be found in museums around the world and are considered some of the most influential furniture designs of the 20th century.

Anima d’Accacio: Columbus e il design della bicicletta, which ran until January 19 2020, focused on the evolution of the bicycling itself, while Traguardo Volante: Cinelli and Columbus, Crossing the Line Between Art and Bicycle, focuses on cycling as a recurrent motif in the visual arts.

Mario Schifano, composizione per serigrafia Granciclismo. Picture: Anni Ottanta

“Freedom is the territory of art and the territory of the bicycle, so it just normal that the two come together,” Colombo told VeloNews on Tuesday. “What you like when you get a bicycle is the freedom it gives you and artists are always in search of the freedom of expression.”

Obviously, considering the current coronavirus crisis that has all of Italy in lockdown, the gallery is currently closed and the final exhibit is on hold. But that has not prohibited Colombo or his exhibit curator Luca Beatrice to make final selections for the exhibit.

Antonio Colombo
Photo: Eric White

“The exhibits this year at the gallery were a way to bring together my passion for the bicycle, modern furniture and contemporary art,” he said. “The bicycle has been a central part of life in the 20th century so it is normal that artists would at times incorporate it into their own own.”

Certain artists of course were more fascinated by the aesthetic form of the bicycle. And this was perhaps no more evident than with Marcel Duchamp’s revolutionary “Bicycle Wheel,” from 1913. Considered a Dada masterpiece just before the outbreak of World War I, Duchamp took two objects found in everyday life — a wooden stool and the front fork and wheel of a bicycle — to create his first Readymade piece of art.

A Pegoretti steel frame on display at the Colombo gallery. Photo: Colombo gallery

Other artists, like the Futurists, were more interested in the speed and movement of the bicycle in action.

Colombo’s gallery is historically focused on more contemporary art. And while the final selection is still a work in progress itself, don’t be surprised to see works by late 20th-century artists, as well as personal friends, like Kieth Haring or Mario Schifano.

While Colombo admits that it is impossible to announce an exact date for the opening, he knows that once his country frees itself from the current health crisis, there will be even more reason to celebrate.