Most car enthusiasts would agree that BMW make beautiful cars, both in terms of how they drive and their aesthetic appeal. However, in 1975, one of BMW’s race car drivers, Frenchman Hervé Poulain, came up with idea of inviting a visual artist to use a BMW as a canvas and create a masterpiece that could then be driven around a racetrack.
The first ‘BMW Art Car‘ as they have become was created by American surrealist and sculptor Alexander Caulder, a man who was close friend of Poulain’s. Poulain then drove the car, BMW 3.0 CSL, in the grueling Le Mans endurance race.
Since Caulder created his ‘BMW Art Car’ sixteen more renowned artists have lent their creativity and vision to the project, including some of the best known names in Modern Art. The results have been stunning, with each car becoming a true work of art that has graced museums all of the world as well as racetracks.
Although we personally love all 17 of the BMW Art Cars, here is a peek at our favorites:
Alexander Calder BMW 3.0 CSL, 1975
Philadelphia native Alexander Calder began his career as an engineer, following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather, so the concept of working with cars was not necessarily a new one for him. He was also primarily, in terms of the art he created, a sculptor, and so quite comfortable working on such a solid canvas.
To create his art car Calder used brilliant color to, as he put it, ‘reshape’ the car to his own vision while still respecting its original lines.
The BMW was, sadly to be one of the last major works the world was gifted by Calder, as he died just a year after it was completed, at the age of 78. The car itself was driven by Hervé Poulain in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, but had to be pulled after just seven hours due to mechanical failure. Ever since, it, along with the other BMW Art Cars, tours art museums worldwide.
Roy Lichtenstein BMW 320i, 1977
Roy Lichtenstein was, of course, one of the leading lights of the pop art movement of 1960s and 1970s and his trademark ‘Benday Dots’ make the BMW Art Car he created rather easily recognizable as his work. Roy was not just recreating his work on a car body though, he had a distinct vision in mind when he began work on the project.
At the time he explained that vision to BMW; “I wanted the lines I painted to be a depiction the road showing the car where to go,”The design also shows the countryside through which the car has traveled. One could call it an enumeration of everything a car experiences – only that this car reflects all of these things before actually having been on a road.”
Once again, once Lichtenstein’s car was completed Hervé Poulain used it as his vehicle of choice for the Le Mans. And this time the car finished ninth overall and first in its class, marking quite a triumph for the both Poulain and the project he began.
Andy Warhol BMW M1, 1979
Two years after Lichtenstein, fellow pop artist and general media visionary Andy Warhol was asked to create a work of art using the first of the now legendary M class cars. As a man who had created art in so many different ways, painting a car was really ‘just another day at the office.’
Warhol surprised everyone involved in the project when he showed up for his first day of ‘work’ though. Previous artists had created a scale model and the made use of assistants to actually translate their design onto the body of the car. That however was not the way Warhol wanted to work.
Suiting up in mechanics overalls, Warhol painted every inch of the car himself, working for more than 48 hours until he was satisfied with his creation, which, he said “I have tried to give a vivid depiction of speed. If a car is really fast, all contours and colours will become blurred”. And fast it was. This time when Poulain, joined this time by German Manfred Winkelhock, drove the newest BMW Art Car in the Le Mans they finished sixth overall, the best finish Poulain had achieved for several years.
If you want to see, and learn about, the rest of the BMW Art Cars, which includes works by David Hockney, Jenny Holzer and Robert Rauschenberg, you can do so at the official BMW Art Car site.