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Art-inspired bikes roll into Minneapolis Institute of Art

Claude Monet's "Grainstack, Sun in the Mist" from 1891 was a challenge because of the delicate touch and intricacy of the brushwork of the original. Photo: KNOCK, inc.
Claude Monet’s “Grainstack, Sun in the Mist” from 1891 was a challenge because of the delicate touch and intricacy of the brushwork of the original. Photo: KNOCK, Inc.
“That’s pretty enough to be in a museum” is a common refrain when cycling aficionados describe a custom bicycle. Curators at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) just upped the ante: they reached out to Minneapolis-based bike company Handsome Cycles to fabricate some custom rigs that are inspired by legendary pieces in MIA’s permanent collection.

And they put these bikes in their museum.

Boom. Pretty enough to be in a museum and actually, like, in a museum. With enough snooty pedigree to make an art historian weak in the knees, the bikes are part of MIA's 100th birthday celebration and the project was more than just a collab.

Handsome and MIA joined forces with two creative agencies, KNOCK, Inc., and Treat and Company, to translate artwork into custom bike designs inspired by the MIA's permanent collection — paintings by Claude Monet and Frank Stella, and a 1948 Tatra T87 sedan. Then they worked with a local frame-builder, Peacock Groove, as well as an outside painting company.

"There were a lot of moving parts and spinning plates. We knew that to pull off what we wanted to do, it was going to take a small army," said Ben Morrison, co-founder and CEO of Handsome Cycles, during a phone interview with GrindTV.

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The process started at the tail end of last summer. First, the group agreed that they should choose pieces from the permanent collection that were wildly different. After deciding which artwork they would emulate with their two-wheeled creations, they got to work.

Each presented its own challenge. The biggest was a fender for a bike inspired by the 1948 Tatra T87. After much blood, sweat and toil, they installed the piece. Before they could exchange high-fives, they realized there wasn't a hole to thread the chain through.

"It's something that none of us had ever done before. Using sheet metal to build this thing and lots of Bondo and sanding. By far the biggest challenge was, 'How do we make this crazy cool custom rear wheel enclosure?'" said Morrison.

The crew at Handsome Cycles set out to capture the curvature and finish of the Tatra T-87 Four-Door Sedan from 1948. Photo: KNOCK, inc.
The crew at Handsome Cycles set out to capture the curvature and finish of the Tatra T87 four-door sedan from 1948. Photo: Courtesy of KNOCK, Inc.

For the Monet, the paint job was paramount. They knew that nailing the aesthetic of the founder of Impressionism would make or break the success of the bike.

"We relied heavily on our painter [at Dirt Designs Graphic], that he could pull it off, and by the grace of God he was able to," said Morrison.

The piece of art behind this bike is Frank Stella's, Tahkt-i-Sulayman, Variation II from 1969.
The piece of art behind this bike is Frank Stella's "Tahkt-i-Sulayman, Variation II," from 1969. "Playing with color, lines and circles is fun," explains Ben Morrison, co-founder and CEO of Handsome Cycles. Photo: Courtesy of KNOCK, Inc.
The Monet also ended up taking the group the longest to figure out, because the translation from canvas to steel was ambitious and multifaceted. "We approached it with this idea of 'Let's design a bike that would be at home in this French countryside, where this painting is.' That's all we had to go on. With the car, we could pull distinct cues, but with the Monet, we had to get more abstract," explained Morrison.

The Monet was his favorite, partially for its simplicity: "It's easily the simplest machine of them all. It has everything it needs and nothing it doesn't: there's just a simple coaster brake; there's just a simple basket. All that is just a backdrop to the amazing paint job on it."

Want a piece of the party? Commemorative bikes are available for sale at the MIA Shop and at Handsome Cycles. They retail for $1,099.95.

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