Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este

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The world’s fastest artworks: BMW Art Cars.

The world’s fastest artworks: BMW Art Cars.

For almost 50 years, BMW has been building racing cars that are treated like works of art and are virtually beyond price: BMW M Art Cars. In 1975, the French auctioneer and amateur racing driver Hervé Poulain dreamt of driving to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of a racing car styled by an artist. BMW Motorsport GmbH had been established three years previously and recognised the potential of this apparently crazy idea. Just a few months later, Poulain lined up at the start of Le Mans in the BMW 3.0 CSL designed by Alexander Calder. And the rest is (art) history.

Some of the most spectacular combinations of speed and beauty can be seen at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este this year. All BWM M Art Cars that have campaigned in the 24 Hours of Le Mans are being exhibited in the garden of Villa d’Este.

After the sculptor Alexander Calder created an artistic monument in 1975 and laid the foundation stone for the BMW Art Car Collection, the artist Frank Stella followed hard on his heels one year later. His BMW 3.0 CSL generated up to 750 hp and was at that time arguably the world’s fastest artwork. Stella was inspired by the technical aura of the racing coupé and created a graphical design recalling pattern charts in black and white, with a precision reprising oversized graph paper.

01. BMW 3.0 CSL by Alexander Calder +++ 02. BMW 3.0 CSL by Frank Stella +++ 03. BMW 320i Group 5 Race Version by Roy Lichtenstein

The BMW 320i Group 5 ranked among the most popular BMW models in 1977. That year, the motor-sport version developed for Le Mans was styled by New York artist Roy Lichtenstein. His characteristic “Benday Dots” are reminiscent of his world-renowned illustrations for comic strips and embellish the BMW Art Car in oversized form. “The design presents the landscape the car has driven through. You might say, it is a kaleidoscopic view of everything a car experiences – but this car actually reflects all these things before it is even driven on the road,” commented Lichtenstein on his work.

Icon of Pop Art Andy Warhol showed how speed can be transformed into art in the guise of the BMW M1 styled by him back in 1979. After equipping himself with lots buckets of paint, Warhol took just 28 minutes to bathe the racing car in gaudy colours, creating a work of art rich in brush strokes and fingerprints. As soon as the driver puts pedal to metal in the BMW M1, all the lines meld together to create a veritable explosion of colour.

04. BMW M1 Group 4 Race Version by Andy Warhol +++ 05. BMW 635 CSi by Ernst Fuchs +++ 06. BMW 635 CSi by Robert Rauschenberg +++ 07. BMW M3 Group A Race Version by Michael Jagamara Nelson +++ 

08. BMW M3 Group A Race Version by Ken Done +++ 09. BMW 535i by Matazo Kayama +++ 10. BMW 730i by César Manrique +++ 11. BMW Z1 by A.R. Penck +++ 

12. BMW 525i by Esther Mahlangu +++ 13. BMW 3-Series Racing Prototype by Sandro Chia +++ 14. BMW 850 CSi by David Hockney 

In 1999, the celebrity American concept and installation artist Jenny Holzer focused on the traditional BMW colours of blue and white for her design of the BMW V12 LMR. She used reflective chrome letters and phosphorescent paint to ensure that her design remained clearly visible throughout the 24 Hour Race of Le Mans. The chrome letters reflect the sky during the day and the daylight stored in the foil glows blue at night.

15. BMW V12 LMR by Jenny Holzer +++ 16. BMW H2R Project by Olafur Eliasson

“These racing cars are like life itself, they are extremely powerful and they have enormous energy. You can engage with them, build on them and become one with this energy,” explained Jeff Koons in 2010 when he created his very own BMW M3 GT2. No sooner said than done: The Art Car exudes a powerful dynamic force even when at rest, featuring the striking colours typical of Koons’ works of art and projecting expressive motion and boisterous energy.

17. BMW M3 GT2 by Jeff Koons +++ 18. BMW M6 GT3 by Cao Fei +++ 19. BMW M6 GTLM by John Baldessari

In 2024, New York artist Julia Mehretu is continuing the story of BMW Art Cars with the BMW M Hybrid V8 reworked by her. Her styling will delight motor-sport fans at this year’s race in Le Mans and captivate anybody who is excited about art, technology, design and mobility.

As part of the special exhibition “Motorsport Icons”, visitors at the Concorso d´Eleganza Villa d´Este 2024 are able to experience the fascination of the BMW Art Car Collection in the grounds of Villa d’Este alongside the latest automobile highlights and technical innovations from the BMW Group.

20. BMW M Hybrid V8 by Julia Mehretu

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