BMW Art Car 2016

For four decades, some of the world’s most visionary artists – including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney and Jeff Koons – have been inspired to create stunning works of art using a BMW vehicle as the canvas. Working on his BMW M1 Art Car in 1979, Warhol said of his creation: “I have tried to give a vivid description of speed. If a car is really fast, all contours and colors will become blurred.”

The BMW Art Car collection launched in 1975, when French race-car driver Hervé Poulain asked his friend, the artist Alexander Calder, to design a car for him. A BMW 3.0 CSL, transformed by Calder, was raced at the “24 Hours of Le Mans,” and fans were dazzled. A new tradition was born.

The BMW Art Car Collection is a unique means of artistic expression – rolling sculptures that blend painting and graphic design; cars transformed into iconic and evocative works. The series will continue this year, featuring the work of Beijing-based, 38-year-old Chinese artist Cao Fei and the renowned 85-year-old American conceptual artist John Baldessari. Selected by an international jury of museum directors and curators, they will create this year’s BMW Art Cars (#18 and #19, respectively) using BMW M6 race cars. Baldessari’s project will be unveiled at Art Basel in December; Cao Fei’s will be shown in the summer of 2017, at a location yet to be determined.

“For me, the car is certainly an icon of contemporary life.”

John Baldessari

The Chinese artist Cao Fei visits the BMW plant in Shenyang to conduct research for the 18th BMW Art Car.

Just as BMW prides itself on boldness and innovation, so do these two artists. As the BMW Art Car jury has noted of its selection, “Fei is one of the most promising and boldest Chinese artists of her generation. For her work on the 18th BMW Art Car, we are in particular looking forward as to how she may turn the car into an imaginative part of her parallel universe. Baldessari is a great pioneer and godfather of an entire art scene in L.A. and beyond. As a ‘serial’ inventor, he keeps surprising us, and we are excited to see the unexpected in what he will come up with for the 19th BMW Art Car.”

Interestingly, Fei has never owned a car and she does not know how to drive. Yet she is interested in the notion of speed: “Acceleration – a concept that reminds me of my desire for speed as a runner during the Young Pioneers days – is deeply connected to the entangled contemporary relationships between velocity, energy and the country.”

For her Art Car project, she has been doing extensive research, just as she does for all her work. She’s interested in depictions of cars in pop culture, and in the intersection of driving and technology what she describes as “a landscape of no man’s land” with self-driving cars and virtual reality. During visits to BMW plants in Shenyang, Tiexi, and in Munich as part of her research, she was fascinated to observe the use of robots in the vehicle production process.

Cao Fei (right), with race car driver Cyndie Allemann, at the TCS Trainingsgelände in Hinwil, Switzerland.

From L to R: “Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear), 2007,” by John Baldessari; the artist in his California studio, with his design study for the 19th BMW Art Car; Cao Fei (inset) and a digital print from “RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007.

From L to R: “Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear), 2007,” by John Baldessari; the artist in his California studio, with his design study for the 19th BMW Art Car; Cao Fei (inset) and a digital print from “RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007.

Born and raised in California, John Baldessari has a distinctly different relationship to cars, one that seems deeply personal. He has always been interested in typography and in minimalist applications of color often adding his iconic colored dots to his work and adding found photography and images. Those elements (and intriguing juxtapositions) will make their way into his BMW Art Car design.

Commenting on his approach, he noted: “For me, the car is certainly an icon of contemporary life. I have done sculpture before, but it’s the first time I have ever, in a sense, collaborated. I didn’t design the car – I collaborated with the designers of the car. I think the challenge comes in making something that cannot be understood from just one point of view, but only from a total point of view. I figured my use of colored dots is kind of an iconic series, so I had to include that. I’m actually advertising myself.”

After the 2016 BMW Art Cars make their world premiere, they will head to the racetracks: next year, Fei’s car will be part of a major race in Asia, and Baldessari’s car will be featured at the “Rolex 24 At DAYTONA” in the United States.

John Baldessari, now 85, has influenced major American artists including Barbara Kruger, David Salle, and Cindy Sherman.