Harley Museum: First Impressions

Jun. 9, 2008
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On Monday evening I had my first glimpse of the Harley Davidson Museum – albeit one restricted to its exterior (thanks to the tenacious resistance of its staff to all of my passionate entreaties to take a peek at its interior). My first impression was one of surprise. For one thing I didn’t know where the actual entry-point was into the museum; for another it was far from the brassy, glassy, sexed up mean machine I expected it to be. In fact I was rather touched by its overall sobriety. The museum complex includes green spaces, concrete plazas, sculpted walls across which buildings are dispersed relatively thinly and take the form of secretive-looking black boxes that are quite low-lying with the exception of the museum entrance. Here one finds one of few superfluous touches; a kind of cage made of steel I-beams that resembles a belfry. Instead of bells however it contains the Harley Logo – a loud instance of product placement that can be forgiven I suppose. This is after all more than a museum; it’s a vehicle for branding and the makers have been quite conservative all things considered. The religious overtones of the belfry are reiterated by the uncannily tall and slender entry doors. I think their cathedral-like, proportion defying quality is my favorite touch so far. There’s something satisfyingly punitive about this entrance. I can imagine the doors slipping open slowly and silkily like well-lubricated jaws waiting to devour hungry Harley fans. Product branding is also transposed onto the skin of the buildings. Interspersed among the smooth an shiny black bricks in which the buildings are clad are grey bricks that spell out the words ‘Harley Davidson’ and the date of the company’s inception. Surprisingly they don’t appear as crass as one might expect, in fact they appear fitting embellishments to the black, cube-like forms of the museum, and underline the fact that this is, after all, intended as a Mecca for motorcycle fanatics.


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