BMW Art Cars Collection


If you're passionate about cars, then it's likely that at some point in your life you will have seen a wildly painted BMW. Like many, you may have just disregarded it as an atypical exhibition car for whatever event you saw it at. Some of you, however, will have known that the car you saw was part of one of the most unlikely cultural crossovers of modern times - that of BMW's motorsport division with some of the most preeminent artists of their time.   

35 years old this year, the BMW Art Car Collection is currently housed in an NCP car park in east London as part of the London 2012 Festival. It's an excellent, and unique, opportunity to see the entire collection in one place, and runs until the 4th August. Entry is also free, unlike BMW's considerable options list for new cars. 

Below, in chronological order, is some of the fastest art you'll ever see.

BMW Art Car 3.0 CSL, Alexander Calder, 1975

Comissioned by Hervé Poulain, the original BMW Art Car is arguably the most striking. The aim was to add "artistic beauty to an already perfect object such as a racing car". A master of mobile kinetic art, Calder started by painting a 1:5 scale model CSL in primary colours that swept across the body before applying his design to the real thing, ready for Le Mans. 

BMW Art Car 3.0 CSL, Frank Stella, 1976

"My design is like a blueprint transferred onto the body" - Frank Stella

Consisting of tiny boxes grouped into 10x10 squares, Stella's literally graphic CSL is a visual tour de force. It's the thicker, seemingly unruly lines that set this design off, however, and according to Stella, keep the car together as a whole. These thicker, curved lines aim to resemble the templates used by engineers for technical drawings before computers became widespread.

BMW Art Car 320 Group 5, Roy Lichtenstein, 1977

"I wanted the lines I painted to be a depiction the road showing he car where to go" - Roy Lichtenstein

Lichtenstein gave the 320i Racing a Pop Art makeover, coalescing comic strip with slickness; the broad and sweeping painted lines represent the road and passing scenery along which the car is being driven. The car is an abstract analytical consideration of the external aerodynamic experiences of the vehicle, and the immaculate finish is attributed to varnishing expert Walter Mauer and BMW designer Wolfgang Seehaus. 

BMW Art Car M1 Group 4, Andy Warhol, 1979

"I love that car. It has turned out better than the artwork" - Andy Warhol

Arguably the most famous Art Car of all, Warhol's M1 was alledgedly completely in just 28 minutes. His third attempt at designing an Art Car (BMW disapproved of the first two), Warhol used his fingers to paint and instill a vivid depiction of speed into the car. Consequentally, the colours blur to great effect when the car is travelling at high speed. BMW rate this car as the most expensive car to bear the firm's roundel.

BMW Art Car 635 CSI, Ernst Fuchs, 1982

"The perception of speed as you whizz by - the longing to transcend time and space, all this inspired while I painted the BMW coupe" - Ernst Fuchs

Fuchs depicts a hare at night running across the autobahn and leaping over a burning car. His 635 CSi ,for many, is the most vivid of all the art cars.

BMW Art Car 635 CSi, Robert Rauschenberg, 1986

"Taking the first step was extremely dificult. It was like being in a room with a beautiful virgin" - Robert Rauschenburg

The sixth artist to create an art car for BMW, Rauschenburg took the art car to a new dimension by the use of photographic transfers. An image of an Ingres painting can be seen on the right-hand side of the bodywork and the left-hand side features Bronzino’s work. Rauschenberg’s own photographs of Everglades swamp grass adorn the bonnet and the hubcaps feature images of ancient decorative plates.

BMW Art Car M3 Group A Race Version, Michael Jagmara Nelson, 1989

"The car is a landscpe, like you'd see from a plane - I included water, the kangaroo and the opossum" - Michael Jagamara Nelson

Australian artist Michael Jagamara Nelson depicts an aerial landscape of his native country in a Papunya art style (an ancient Aboriginal ‘dot painting’ technique). The canvas is painted in an earthy palette includes depictions of water and marsupials.

BMW Art Car M3 Group A Race Version, Ken Done, 1989

"I wanted the car to look like it was moving even when stationary" - Ken Done 

Nationality seems to be the only thing both Michael Jagamara Nelson and Ken Done share in common. Their different backgrounds are evident in their art; Nelson paints with an ancient aboriginal style, whereas Done embraces a more modern approach, using psychedelic colours to depict abstract representations of his homeland, choosing “speed” and “Australia” as key themes. A colour gradient fading from warmer to cooler colours spans across the length of the car, underlying an abstract motif of parrot-fish to convey the car’s speed.

BMW Art Car 535i, Matazo Kayama, 1990

"I became most aware of the clear lines of the BMW once the car was completely covered with the colourful design" - Matazo Kayama

Elements of traditional Japanese art along with modern airbrush techniques were used to create this 535i. Stylized snow was used to create a glistening body and which is intercepted by a contrasting irregular sagittal streak of deep blue oil paint to represent a wild river, conveying a sense of movement. Using the Japanese ‘Krigane’ (metal cutting) and ‘Arare’ (foil printing) techniques, Kayama applied pieces of silver, gold and aluminium along the river generating a glistening effect from the depths of the water.

BMW Art Car 730i, Cesar Manrique, 1990

"When I think of speed, I immediately think of butterflies and dragonflies" - Cesar Manrique

Spaniad César Manrique uses bold colours to energise the BMW 730i, adorning the body with an abstract design of waves, circles and spots that complement the car’s shape. Like most of Manrique’s work, the abstract design of the Art Car preserves an association with nature; a red river sourced from the bonnet’s BMW logo spills into a waterfall across the front of the car, and brightly coloured segments covering the body overlap to create a sense of motion. On the car’s wing mirrors are painted eyes, as if to say “watch where you’re going”, tragically two years after creation of Manrique’s Art Car, the artist was killed in a car accident.

BMW Art Car Z1, A.R. Penck, 1991

"Art on art, art on technology - I was interested in that - especially art on a three dimensional object" - A.R. Penck

An interesting thought is that the Z1's abnormal existence, as a limited edition roadster with retractable doors, is mirrored by Penck's undeniable indiviudality. Painted red with thick black imagery, the Z1 certainly comes across as an oddball, but also with gravitas in abundance.

BMW Art Car 525i, Esther Mahlangu, 1991

"The patterns I used in the BMW design bring together our heritage and modernity of the car" - Esther Mahlangu

South African artist Esther Mahlangu's 525i takes inspiration from her tribal roots as a member of the Ndebele. High in contrast, not only in its colour palette but in its juxtaposition of old art on modern technology, the car's absence of circles is at odds with its streamlined shape. The result is that the artwork comes across almost as an item of clothing.

BMW Art Car 3 Series Touring Car Prototype, Sandro Chia, 1992

"You can see the beauty of the car and yourself reflected in the surface. It is an interchange of beauty" - Sandro Chia

There are faces on every panel of Italian-born Sandro Chia's 3 Series Racer. On the receiving the car, Chia believed his challenge was to finish what someone else had started, and the seemingly expressionless faces staring out of the car supposedly allow this Art Car to look back. Like a mirror.

BMW Art Car 850 CSi, David Hockney, 1995

"The car has wonderful lines, which I followed. I toyed a little with breaking up the surface without affecting the overall shape" - David Hockney 

British legend David Hockney’s efforts to convey an x-ray portrayal of the iconic 1995 850 CSi coupé see the body feature paintings of the inner anatomy of the vehicle. A silhouette of a driver painted on the left door contributes a human element to the design, whereas the rest of the body features more mechanical images and depictions of perspective.

BMW Art Car V12 LMR, Jenny Holzer, 1999

"The intoxication of motorised speed appears to be every bit as strong as sexual fulfilment" - Jenny Holzer

Featuring various panels adorned with thought-provoking comments, provocative artist Jenny Holzer's all-white V12 LMR includes sentences such as, "Monomania is a prerequisite to success", and "The unattainable is is invariably attractive". Our choicest, however, is "Lack of charisma can be fatal", which is plastered across the rear wing. Too true. 

BMW Art M3 GT2, Jeff Koons, 2010

"My design is meant to represent the energy of the BMW M3 GT2" - Jeff Koons

Interpreting modern Pop Art, Koon's colourful M3 GT2 certainly has a comic element to it, and this is understandable as his inspiration came from racing car design and the visualisation of energy. Given complete freedom (aside from altering the car's aerodyniamic qualities), Koon's design was was digitally printed onto vinyl and applied with a double coat of clear lacquer - just in time for 2010's 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

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