17th BMW Art Car to Run Le Mans

The concept of the automobile as haute art rather than mere industrial design has gained strength in recent years, notably championed by exhibits at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Phoenix Art Museum and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.  The inverse of this idea, the traditional artistic depiction of automotive subjects, also continues to gain recognition as automotive artists sell prints of their paintings of classic Ferraris and historic races for thousands of dollars.  Foreshadowing the recent popularization of these concepts, at least one major manufacturer has hewed a slightly different path by offering its cars as the actual canvas for the work of important contemporary artists.  That manufacturer, BMW, has commissioned seventeen such extraordinary cars over the last 35 years, the latest of which was unveiled by pop artist Jeff Koons at a presentation earlier today at the Centre Pompidou, an interdisciplinary Parisian museum and cultural center focused on modern and contemporary artistic expression.

The added appeal of the BMW Art Cars, at least from a motorsports enthusiast’s point of view, is that they have almost all been campaigned at the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.  The Koons car, a 500-horsepower M3 GT2 whose 4.0 liter V-8 reportedly rockets the car to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds, is no exception, and will wear number 79 when the famed French race is held on June 12 – 13.

“These race cars are like life, they are powerful and there is a lot of energy.  You can participate with it, add to it and let yourself transcend with its energy,” said Koons at an April press conference in which he revealed his initial sketches for the car.   “There is a lot of power under that hood and I want to let my ideas transcend with the car – it’s really to connect with that power.”

Koons follows a long line of esteemed artists that have participated in BMW’s Art Car program.  In fact, the number of his car (79) pays homage to the fourth-ever Art Car, an M1 decorated by Andy Warhol that competed at Le Mans in 1979.  Other notable artists to participate in the program over the years include Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney.  Koons is a most appropriate selection considering that he regularly drove a BMW decades ago while living in Munich.  Furthermore, his sculpture methods often revolve around the use of computer-assisted design programs and bear a strong resemblance to the techniques employed by today’s car designers, making the collaboration a natural fit.

Following its campaign at Le Mans, the Koons Art Car will be displayed alongside its predecessors at the BMW Museum in Munich.