There are cars and then there are art cars. Since 1979, BMW has been celebrating artists with their Art Car collection, first introduced by the French race car driver Hervé Poulain, who wanted to invite an artist to create a canvas on an automobile. Poulain commissioned the first car in this series in 1975—a race car painted by Alexander Calder—and there have been 16 others since then, including cars designed by David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein.
These days, BMW leaves the artistic selection up the experts. Thomas Girst, the brand’s head of cultural engagement, explains, “Starting with Olafur Eliasson’s car—the 16th in the series—we decided to leave the artist selection to professionals in the art field, including curators from major museums around the world.” For the 2013 Art Car, the M3 GT2 race car, which debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach on December 4, the honor went to American mega artist Jeff Koons.
Model Karolina Kurkova was also on hand to pull back the curtain on the artist’s new design.
“I always enjoyed the Art Cars. I’ve always owned BMWs and wanted to participate,” Koons says of his vinyl-painted car. “I wanted to be involved in this design dialogue.” The reason for the number 79 on the car? “Andy Warhol had that number for his car (made in 1979) and I was thrilled with the connection.” But Koons scoffs at any attempts to trivialize this project: “It was a lot of work. I worked every day, all day long on this car for the last six months. But I walked away from it with a vaster understanding of possibilities. I wanted the car to always exert maximum power.”
His vibrantly painted car offered a dose of whimsy for the luxury German automaker and championed a cause close to the brand: art and culture. Through partnerships with the Guggenheim Museum (the BMW Guggenheim Lab) and the Tate in London (BMW Tate LIVE: Performance Room), the company has supported a variety of art fairs, cultural events and institutions. Girst says: “Our sponsorship has included a street festival in Mexico City, a jazz festival in Beirut, and an arts discussion forum in Melbourne. So, some of our sponsorship has been about supporting events to create a platform and an awareness that make certain things possible.”