FLINT – Sloan Museum’s newest exhibition, Art at Work: Early GM Designs of Dick Ruzzin, features sketches from the early career of one of General Motors’ most prolific car designers. Over 30 sketches are on loan from the artist until February 25, 2018. Ruzzin spent over 40 years designing for GM before retiring as the Director of Design for Chevrolet cars.
Sloan Museum Curator of Collections Christine McNulty worked closely with Ruzzin to curate the exhibition. “Dick Ruzzin’s works are significant because they remind us of the artistry present in one of the most commonplace and yet significant objects in modern life – the automobile,” McNulty said. While Sloan Museum often delves into topics related to Flint’s automotive history, the opportunity to display automotive designs as art is unusual for the local history museum.
The exhibition includes works from 1964-1979, a time that Ruzzin describes as a “hot-bed of design activity” under legendary Vice-President of Design Bill Mitchell. Visitors to Sloan Museum can see Ruzzin’s 1973 Toronado design proposal sketch, which highlights the collaborative nature of car design, spanning studios and disciplines. Ruzzin was working in Advanced Design 4 when the studio received an assignment to work on the Toronado that had been started by Bill Mitchell in Studio X. Like the Toronado, each sketch helps tell a story about the lengthy process of innovation in automotive design.
Although only a small portion of Ruzzin’s original designs survive today, they had a lasting impact. One example is Ruzzin’s work on the Total Automotive Systems Concept program, which marked GM’s earliest response to emerging concerns about energy supply. The TASC program produced the conceptual forbears of the X-car. Art at Work: Early GM Designs of Dick Ruzzin also showcases distinct innovations attributed to Ruzzin, like the concept of a base model and multiple configurations. This is exemplified through sketches of a modular Chevrolet sports car from 1979.
Ruzzin and his colleagues cultivated a vast bank of design ideas meant to keep them inspired. These designs served the function of fueling innovation in the workplace, and eventually became recognized for their artistic merit. “Between and even during serious projects, we always found time to sketch something unusual for future reference,” Ruzzin said. The artistry of Ruzzin’s designs went largely unacknowledged until the late 1980s. They were viewed as work product, and generally thrown away when projects came to an end. Ruzzin was given permission to retain only a tiny fraction of the artwork he produced during his career. Art at Work: Early GM Designs of Dick Ruzzin offers a rare glimpse into the art generated in the pursuit of a larger goal – to ultimately produce cars that were beautiful, functional, and desirable.