Car artists

Great artists on the track. The victory goes to BMW in any case

Photo credit: BMW AG

Brands find countless ways of earning renown, admiration, respect and love. Few, however, have the kind of clear-sightedness and vision necessary to occupy a sphere with such authoritativeness that their competitors are inevitably sidelined.

This is precisely what BMW managed to do in the late 1970s, when it broke into the art world, proving to be a protagonist from the outset. A protagonist thanks to its idea of linking its most extreme competition models to the names of key artists of the time — true artists with a capital A, the kind that shape the history of taste and customs. We have selected five of these cars in order to analyze their origins. Because true artists, of course, don’t accept briefs: if they agree to collaborate, they will only do so if they feel free to create something that strikes them as right and fitting.

Alexander Calder is as renowned for his monumental iron sculptures as for his light and innovative hanging “mobiles” that move in the wind. For the 1975 CSL, he chose the only element that his distinctive works share: the use of pure, strong colors, mainly red, yellow and blue. The result is definitely “him”.

The 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL Art Car designed by Alexander Calder
The 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL Art Car designed by Alexander Calder

The abstract expressionism of Frank Stella draws on minimalism, particularly that influenced by the optical art of Victor Vasarely. A car, to him, is no different from the large canvases he loves to paint or his equally minimalist monumental sculptures. His 1976 BMW 3.0 CSL is completely white but for the black lines forming an all-over graph paper effect. Magnificent in its purity.

The 1976 BMW 3.0 CSL Art Car designed by Frank Stella
The 1976 BMW 3.0 CSL Art Car designed by Frank Stella

Considering that one of his paintings sold for more than 90 million dollars, how much must the BMW 850CSi painted by David Hockney in 1995 be worth? A huge amount, if only for the spectacular combination of his somewhat dreamlike figurative painting in Pop Art style — on the side of the car we can make out the driver and even his dog — with his masterfully strong and decisive graphics. A masterpiece.

The 1995 BMW 850CSi Art Car designed by David Hockney
The 1995 BMW 850CSi Art Car designed by David Hockney

Pop Art brought the comic strip style to the walls of leading art galleries, and in this context the work of Roy Lichtenstein stands out for his distinctive use of Ben-Day dots. In graphic terms, the chromatic effects that these dots create and the levels of resolution they confer are part of his language. And they are a clear feature of the livery of the 320i Group 5 which he decorated in 1977.

The 1977 BMW 320i Group 5 Art Car designed by Roy Lichtenstein
The 1977 BMW 320i Group 5 Art Car designed by Roy Lichtenstein

Finally — we say finally, but these are actually only a few of the many BMW art cars, which are often brought together for exhibitions —, we come to the magnificent dynamism of Jeff Koons’ M3 GT2. When art becomes an “advert” for the American way of life, every aspect of this finds its own interpretation. Accordingly, the BMW, being expected to race and win, is covered in bright strokes in different colors that reinforce its dynamism, streamlining and emphasizing its lines. All this is further enhanced by the magnificent explosion effect on the rear of the vehicle, which makes the car look as if it is being powered, like a rocket, towards success.

The 2010 BMW M3 GT2 Art Car designed by Jeff Koons
The 2010 BMW M3 GT2 Art Car designed by Jeff Koons