BMW Car Art

Many people would consider car design to be an art form in itself – it is almost impossible to sell an ugly car these days (although as tastes do vary some monstrosities have slipped through the net – Fiat Multiplas please hang your bonnets in shame!) You are much more likely to over-hear a debate about the aesthetics of cars today than one considering the work of Van Gogh, Gaudi or Michelangelo. Yet, for a car to be shown in a gallery it has to be flattened, squashed and destroyed to beyond recognition. The BMW Art Car Project has taken a much less abstract approach to turning cars in to art, while still allowing the viewer to appreciate the cars original form.

The idea of the BMW Art Car Project was conceived by French race-car driver and auctioneer Hervé Poulin. He wanted to invite an artist to create a work of art, using an automobile as their canvas. In 1975 Poulin commissioned his friend and American artist, Alexander Calder, to paint the first art car using a BMW 3.0 CSL which Poulin then raced himself in the 1975 Les Mans endurance race. Since then 16 other artists including David Gockeny, Jenny Holzer, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol have all created their own BMW Art Car.

The cars can currently all be seen together for the first time in the UK from the end of July to the 4th August at ART DRIVE! – an exhibition in East London that’s part of the London 2012 Festival. Below is a selection of our favourites from the project.

Alexander Calder 1975 – BMW 3.0 CSL

The very first of the BMW Art Cars boasts powerful colours and attractive curving expanses which Calder applied generously to the wings, hood and roof.

Ken Done 1989 – BMW M3

Bmw Car Art
Done wanted to express the fascination he held for the high powered vehicle and also reflect the vitality of Australia – his home continent. He therefore decided to paint parrots and parrot fish – animas which he believed share two characteristics with the car – beauty and speed. He “wanted the car to look like it was moving even when it was stationary.”

Cesar Manrique 1990 – BMW 730i


Manrique wanted to combine notions of speed and aerodynamics with the concept of aesthetic appeal. He stated “when I think of speed I immediately think of butterflies and dragonflies” which can be interpreted from the glowing colours, broad, sweeping strokes which blend in to the outlines of the car of effortless gliding and graceful movement.

Esther Mahlangu 1991 – BMW 525i

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Mahalangu’s design uses African Ndebele art which evolved from the tribal tradition of decorating their homes. The car is very different from previous designs – she wanted “the patterns used in the design to bring together our heritage and the modernity of the car.”

Jeff Koons 2010 – BMW M3 G72

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For his inspiration Koons collected images of race cars, related graphics, vibrant colours, speed and explosions. The resulting artwork is evocative of power, motion and bursting energy. He said “these race cars are like life, they are powerful and there is a lot of energy…There is a lot of power under that hood and I wanted to let my ideas transcend with the car.”

So if you find yourself in the East End of London and the Olympics aren’t really your thing, head down to The Great Eastern Street Car Park and take in this unusual art exhibition, it’s open from 12-9pm and is free for all!
See the full collection with information on each car and the artist here, or for information about the event click here!


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