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The BMW Art Car Legacy

Jeff Koons accelerates a tradition.

“I worked every day on this car for about six months,” said Jeff Koons recently, waving a hand across his BMW M3 GT2 Art Car at Art Basel Miami Beach. The 58-year-old artist was in town to unveil his work of auto art, which rolled onto Floridian soil this month for its North American debut. Covered in bold stripes and encased in glass, Koons’s car is a reminder of BMW’s success at breaching the realm of arts support and entering the creative fleet in its own right through art creation.

Since 1975, BMW has enlisted a slew of artists to transform individual models into art pieces, beginning with sculptor Alexander Calder’s BMW 3.0 CSL design. A canon of artistic greats soon followed—among them, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Jenny Holzer—and there are 17 vehicles in the collection today. Home base for all is the German auto manufacturer’s BMW Museum in Munich, and for special occasions and exhibitions, the historic Art Cars travel the world. Thus, from Munich to Miami came the Koons car to be shown.

“I was trying to really just think about energy, where the car could show its potential for speed and power,” said the Pennsylvania-born artist of his design. Using a technique that referenced the razzle dazzle painting tradition (a type of camouflage used on ships during the First World War), Koons also studied images of novas exploding to garner inspiration for his kaleidoscopic pattern.

“When I designed the Art Car [in 2010] I had two different directions to go,” said Koons. The first, “Plan A”, was to work with lenticular images that change depending on the viewer’s angle. “I wanted to have the car always exerting maximum power, [so] that as it would be moving around the track it would continue to shift. When it was coming at you, would look one way, and then right when it passed [you], it would be exploding with more power.” Logistically, that first proposition added too much weight to the vehicle so instead Koons decorated it using vinyl decals, which impacted the automobile’s function far less; the model was driven at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race that same year.

This year, amidst the sea of global art-market commercialism which pervades Miami’s Art Basel, the presence of Koons’s car was more than welcome—not the least of which is because this artwork isn’t for sale. It was artistic compatriotism more than commercialism that fuelled Koons’s desire to join the Art Car club in the first place, and the artist donated the value of the two cars BMW gifted him to his Koons Family Institute on International Law & Policy, an initiative of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children.

“The art world is like a family,” said Koons in Miami. With BMW’s unique form of artistic and cultural engagement, the company has earned its membership.

The original Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol BMW Art Cars will be on display in Miami at the Braman BMW dealership (2060 Biscayne Blvd.) until January 6.