BMW Art Cars: when contemporary art meets race cars.

When one talks about BMWs race cars painted by artists, it speaks to me. You may not know, but before working in the automotive sector, I was in contemporary art. Yes, I passed my master degree in international art market. I have always been passionate about automotive but also about art. However, when I was studying art history, I felt very lonely. Indeed, art experts are far from the considerations of engine cylinder capacity, injection and turbo. Nobody around me knew and especially considered the Art Cars, and even less cars in general. Basically, my friend Anthony and I were both considered as yokel because we appreciated cars (before 2016 and the incredible expansion of the classic car market).

Today everything is different, classic cars are hype, I live my car passion in everyday life and Art Cars have become for me delicious cherries on the windshield, uh the cake.

A brilliant concept of unique race cars

In 1975, Hervé Poulain, driver and auctioneer had the genius idea to entrust the livery of his BMW 3.0 CSL ready for the 24 Hours of Le Mans to his friend Alexander Calder. You know, this artist engineer who made minimalist and colorful mobiles that you can admire in almost every contemporary art museum in the world and even on the Defense Esplanade in Paris.

Alexander Calder, Mobile quadrichrome, 1959 – credits Christies

Oh yes, I was going to forget, each car is obviously an unique artwork and has, like most Art Cars, participated in a race with this livery. It has been exposed as a work of art, even though Calder’s car wasn’t able to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately the car never raced again, even in Le Mans Classic.

After that, the fabulous world of the automobile and the fantastic world of art have never been the same again. BMW has chosen to regularly provide race cars, and sometimes production cars, to major contemporary artists for a total today of 19 Art Cars.

BMW France has gathered four legendary Arts Cars, a rare opportunity to admire these masterpieces and visit this exceptional exhibition at BMW Paris Brand Store.

Frank Stella’s 1976 BMW 3.0 CSL

Arriving, we are immediately captured by the colors displayed. However, in the middle of flashy cars one of them stands out more than the others: a 1976 BMW 3.0 CSL by Frank Stella.

Indeed, he worked for BMW just after Alexander Calder and chose to make an Art Car much more sober than the first one.

The closer I get, the more interesting it is. On its bodywork, Frank Stella has achieved an astonishing gris pattern, like a graph paper, which perfectly fits the smallest details of the race car. Above this hand-glued network of hundred lines, geometric shapes are superimposed to highlight not only the design of the body, but also the functions of the body and the engineering under the body. It’s almost hypnotic. I love it.

“My design is like a blueprint uploaded to the bodywork.”

This car seems to be a preparatory 3D drawing of the Eskimo curlew mural sculpture made in 1976.

Roy Lichtenstein’s 1977 BMW 320i

Everyone loves Roy Lichtenstein. You probably know his gigantic paintings in tribute to 50s-60s advertising aesthetics. And his screenprint treatment? Does it mean anything to you? And what if I’m talking about crying blond women who think with comics bubbles?

Displayed in the BMW Brand Store’s window, we couldn’t miss this colorful Art Car with stripes and dots. Looking from the side, it looks like it’s moving even when it’s not. It’s both disturbing and fascinating. The lines drawn from the front to the rear show the way to the car, maybe that’s why it finished at the ninth place in the scratch classification and first in its class at Le Mans 1977.

When we look at the car more carefully, we notice a rising sun on the left door and a sunset on the right door. They radiate all the car with lines and spots. Here is a very aesthetic metaphor of the passing time during endurance race, of the car stuck in two temporalities, in the flow of landscapes.

“I wanted the lines I painted the road to the road to go to.” The design also shows the countryside as it travels. all of these things having actually been on a road.”

Sunset motif is recurrent in Lichtenstein work but never with as much force and depth. This Art Car probably prefigures sculptures and landscapes series realized at the end of his life.

Andy Warhol’s 1979 BMW M1

Nobody needs to be introduce to the Pop Art master. If there is one artist that everyone knows (even those who have never been in a museum), it’s Andy Warhol. So you probably wonder where are Campbell Soups cans, Marilyn Monroe portraits and giant flowers? You’re gonna be disappointed.

Andy Warhol wanted to apply his floral pattern to the entire car. Yes everywhere. A mauve wallpaper that covered the Art Car from the headlights to the windows.

Rejected! It was too dangerous for the drivers.

The artist has therefore proposed a second car with camouflage military pattern.

Rejected! It was too early because of WW2.

Then Andy Warhol replied: “Well, send me plane tickets and I will come to paint the Art Car directly in Munich.” Quick as lightning, the artist realized his car in 28 minutes tops. Legend has it that he was so spontaneous and fast that film crew could only film the last minutes of painting.

What is really impressive when you see this car is the amount of paint used. Today in race conditions, it would be completely impossible to drive with an overweight like that. However, in terms of art, it’s an incredible piece on which we quickly notice a lot of movements. Indeed, the juxtaposed colors blend in border and let appear brush strokes, finger prints and grooves. Even the signature of the artist has been directly made through the fresh painting. This masterpiece conveys a lot of emotion. Especially since it achieved a sixth place in the overall rating and second place in their class at Le Mans 1979.

“I have tried to give a vivid depiction of speed.”

This artwork probably prefigures the colorful and geometric serigraphs of the artist in the 80s.

Jeff Koons’ 2010 BMW M3GT2

Finally, in front of Roy Lichtenstein’s Art Car, there is Jeff Koons’ M3GT2. 27 years separate them and yet they have a lot in common. Both seem to be moving even when they are stopped, here in an exhibition hall.

Facing the M3GT2 Art Car, I was almost impressed by its charisma. It shows you its muscles. The hundreds of lines that make up its livery seem to start from the front of the car, wrap it up and end in an explosion at the rear. More than lines of paintings, they look like bright spots that are reflected on a high speed black car, a bit like a light painting experiment.

“These races are like life, they are powerful and there is a lot of energy”. “You can participate with it, add to it and let yourself transcend with its energy. There is a lot of power behind that, and it’s a good idea to go with it – it’s really connected to that power.”

Indeed, we feel all this energy through, with a lot of tension, an intense carnal energy through the whole car.

So, all of that is to say that first, cars are definitely not a slob business, and second, you have to visit this Art Cars show “How a vision became reality” and discover these four smashing cars / masterpieces at the BMW Paris Brand Store until April 5, 2019. Otherwise you’ll regret it one day.


Warhol, Koons, Lichtenstein and Stella drive us

 crazy... about BMW Art Cars

  1. The scenography seems pretty good for the 3.0 CSL and M1.
    LED displays were a terrific idea.

  2. L’idée était assez cool dans les années 70-80 où on pouvait encore se permettre quelques excentricités en course. Aujourd’hui avec les (très) nombreuses règles qui composent les règlements de course et les énormes enjeux d’ingénierie et financiers, c’est probablement difficile de proposer des livrées intéressantes. Les dernières étaient en ce sens un peu décevantes d’après moi. En tous cas, merci pour ce bel article et ces jolies photos qui illustrent bien la fougue de ces années de course.

  3. Hello les gars, j’y suis passé grâce à vous, merci merci, c’était vraiment une belle exposition. Une ptite préférence pour la M1 de Warhol évidemment 😅😅😅

  4. Waouh quel monstre la M3 GT2!! Les lignes mettent le design en valeur, c’est fouuuu


    That’s what I see in my head, don’t know why, it’s a kind of obsession

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