CUSTOM REVOLUTION: Paul d’Orléans’ Petersen Museum Moto Masterpiece
Written by Andrew Jones
We’d call Paul d’Orléans a Renaissance man, but 14th Century Italy wouldn’t have enough vintage motorcycles, loafers and Hawaiian shirts to keep him happy. Instead, we’ll just call him a modern-day moto legend; there’s simply no one alive that has done more to promote classic and custom motorcycles than this writer, publisher, curator, judge, auctioneer and all-round moto fanatic. In his latest endeavour, he’s assembled what could arguably be the greatest collection of custom motorcycles ever. Think we’re being bombastic? Then you’re in for a large and rather pleasant surprise; check out Paul’s ‘Custom Revolution’ show at Los Angeles’ Petersen Museum.
Hello again Paul! Can you tell us about the show?
“The Custom Revolution exhibit presents the revolution that’s happened in custom motorcycles in the past 10 years. It’s the first museum show dedicated to this movement, and includes 23 of the best bikes from seven countries, with incredible variety. The builds are based on 17 different brands, and modified in every style – café racer, chopper, land speed racer, dragster, bob-job, sportbike, scrambler, art bike, retro-future, etc. They’re all dramatically different, and the display is amazing; Ian Barry laid it out, and Ornamental Conifer did the wall graphics – I guarantee you’ve never seen a bike or museum show like it.“
How did it come about?
“The Petersen approached me in mid-December 2017 with an idea for a ‘hand-made motorcycle exhibit featuring LA builders’. The Petersen’s exhibit curator, Bryan Petersen, had met Ian Barry and was a fan of the ‘Alt.Custom’ scene, he’d also read ‘The Ride’ books and knew my writing, plus it seems Gordon McCall (Quail Motorcycle Gathering) had recommended me. After talking with my teams at The Vintagent and the Motorcycle Arts Foundation, we grabbed the idea and ran with it, coming back at the Petersen with the Custom Revolution concept, arguing it would be the first show of its type – if it included builders from around the world.”
What was your role in making it happen?
“My role was to choose the bikes, convince the builders to loan us their best machines (for a year!), write the exhibition abstract, themes, catalog and all accompanying text, and act as the front man for a large group effort. Having a big team at The Vintagent and the Motorcycle Arts Foundation meant we could produce a 100-page catalog in 6 weeks, plus all the signage, and work with friends to make the space look different from any motorcycle show. I discussed exactly this concept with Ian Barry back in 2009; he was the first person I asked to participate.”
Tell us about the bikes and builders you chose to take part.
“Ground zero for me is Shinya Kimura; his ‘Needle’ put a crack in my edifice when I encountered it in 2006, the first mixture of art and motorcycle that really spoke to me. I met Ian Barry in 2008, and grew involved in his process by simple friendship and appreciation of his talent. David Borras became a great friend in 2011 in Toulouse, where we rode for a weekend before that ride became Wheels & Waves. I met Max Hazan in Brooklyn during his third build, and was really intrigued by the architecture of his work. I’ve known Derek Dorrestyn from Alta since the 1980s, and was the first person to write about the Mission One in 2009, because Mitchell Pergola of FuseProject is a friend since the ‘90s.”
“I met Alan Stulberg of Revival at Bonneville in 2011, and Alp Sungurtekin there in 2013. I tried to get Medaza’s Rondine to Sturgis for my ‘Ton Up!’ exhibit with Michael Lichter in 2012, and wrote about many of these builders for ‘The Ride’ books or for Cycle World, because their work is unique, finely crafted, and aesthetically balanced. I’d never met a few of the builders, like Darryl at Bandit9, Mark Atkinson, Ronin, Kengo of Heiwa, and Krautmotors, but their work speaks for itself. Uwe Ehinger, Kingston Custom, Roland Sands, and Thrive I met at Wheels & Waves over the years. Kenny Cummings of NYC Norton is a dear friend too…what can I say, either they’re great friends, or I haven’t spent enough time with them for that to happen. These are all incredibly talented, brilliant, dedicated, and really hardworking people – who wouldn’t want to hang around them?”
Why were they chosen?
“The Petersen needed bikes that looked amazing, and would interest non-motorcyclists, so we needed some spectacular machines, some historic machines, and some machines that represented possibility. So there are three electric bikes, and bikes from non-Western, non-Japanese builders, who are the tip of the iceberg of a global phenomenon; making bikes fun again, with style. There are other amazing and incredibly influential builders we would have loved to include, like Go Takamine (Brat Style), Walt Siegl, Wrenchmonkees, Cherrys Co, Fred Krugger, etc, but we only had space for 23 bikes. Many of the bikes we wanted were unavailable, and we couldn’t afford to bring more from abroad, but I’m really happy with what we secured.”
What has been the reaction from the general public to the show?
“Everyone who walks into the Petersen and sees the exhibit, whether motorcyclist or not, is drawn into the space and mesmerized by the machines. They glitter and fascinate in a way no Ferrari or Porsche could ever, barring a few vintage F1 racers. It’s the combination of exposed and celebrated machinery, with unexpected shapes and textures that are beautifully crafted. A car can exist without a driver, but a motorcycle needs a rider, and that’s seductive, especially when it’s a beautiful, glittering work of art on two wheels. People dig it.
What’s more important to me, though, is the response from the builders, who really get that this exhibit is next-level business. They’re slightly in awe of having their work in the most beautiful motoring museum in the world, and understand this is a turning point for their work, and the Alt.Custom scene as a whole.”
And which one would you take home with you?
“Tough call; I’ve only ridden three – the Falcon Black, Revival J63, and Speed Shop Design Beezerker. I flogged the J63 hard through the hills of Carmel Valley, and gave the Black a full-throttle run through LA; that’s my riding style – ever a café racer. Each bike in this show is amazing, and I desire each for different reasons. But my DNA is in the Black; I helped source the Vincent Black Shadow basket case it’s built from, and it’s the only bike in Custom Revolution I saw develop from the initial sketch to the finished machine. That’s my huckleberry.”