BMW's so-called Art Cars — vehicles that have been turned into rolling canvases by well-known artists — are famous among both art and auto enthusiasts. The 17 cars that make up the series, going back to 1975, include designs by A-listers like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Stella. They've been displayed at the Louvre. Even if you don't love cars, there something visceral and enduring about this colorful, eclectic collection that includes the perspective of so many influential artists over the past four decades.
Last week, BMW announced that the next two Art Cars will be created by legendary California artist John Baldessarri and Chinese artist Cao Fei, and are scheduled to be unveiled in 2017. Cao, who is the youngest artist to be chosen, and Baldessari, who at 84 is the oldest, will transform the exteriors of two BMW M6 GT3s into Art Cars 18 and 19.
BMW chose New York's Guggenheim Museum to make the announcement, where the first Art Car — a 3.0 CSL styled by Alexander Calder — was on display. (French race car driver Hervé Poulain, who initiated the commission, was also in attendance.) Calder's geometric red, yellow, white, and blue number 93 car raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and was such a success that it inspired other artists to want to follow suit. Frank Stella, a racing enthusiast, made the next Art Car, followed by Robert Rauschenberg's reinterpretation of the BMW 635csi.
The most recent Art Car was made by Jeff Koons in 2010 and brought back the tradition of racing the Art Cars at Le Mans — though it did not bring home a win for the company. Some Art Cars, like Olafur Eliasson's frozen BMW H2R, are not even drivable.
This year is the first time two artists have worked on an Art Car at the same time. Baldessari, a conceptualist, has inspired Southern California artists for decades. He's put colored dots over people's faces and was among the first to pair text and art in his work. In contrast, Fei is known for her perceptive pieces that investigate a changing China; one of her better-known videos features vacuum cleaner robots from outer space visiting a demolition site. A panel of museum directors and curators selected the artists.
The cars are scheduled to race — which limits the artists' transformations to painted surfaces, effectively — and then will be displayed at museums in 2017. As Baldessari noted in his remarks, this will be his "fastest work yet."