Cars for art's sake

Cars for art's sake image

Text: Jude P. Morte / Photos: Edward P. Simon | posted March 12, 2007 00:00

In the world of fine art, there are a lot of mediums from which to choose. Normally the medium used is rarely highlighted, with much focus on a particular work's method or methods of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind or spirit. But when the medium is an amalgamation of metal, plastic, rubber, leather, carbon and cloth known as an automobile, then the medium as well as the artwork itself deserves its place in the spotlight.

Typical of the said maxim is the BMW Art Car collection. This menagerie of artistic depiction represents the cultural trends of several eras, from the disco-funkadelic 70s to the cross-gender-bending 80s to the grunge-era 90s. Using BMW race cars and production cars as canvases, fifteen noted artists representing nine countries from each continent transformed automobiles from the blue-and-white roundel into rolling themes of mass culture.

Recently BMW Philippines gave a select number of motoring journalists the opportunity to experience art for cars' sake at the BMW Art Car display at the Ayala Museum in Makati.

Motoring and fine art stimulation

The first BMW Art Car was conceived in 1975, the year that French race driver Hervé Poulain first joined the 24 Heures (24 Hours) de Le Mans. In a desire to make an artistic statement during his Le Mans debut, he commissioned his friend (sculptor Alexander Calder) to complete a painting on his BMW 3.0 CSL racer. In the years that followed, the concept of transforming BMW race cars into mobile artwork attracted very influential artists, from pop art proponents Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and David Hockney to the abstract expressionist Robert Rauschenberg. The spectrum of designated models widened in the 1980s, when the painting of art cars was expanded to cover all BMW production models.

The Ayala Museum display of BMW Art Cars featured four cars from the collection, two from the pop art genre, one from the eccentric polygon bloc and one with Australian culture as inspiration. The 1989 M3 group A race version by Australian Ken Done blends his fascination with the 2.3L 300 hp racer and the vitality of his homeland. The result is something that favors the wild colors of parrots and parrot fish which, in his view, had two characteristics in common with his canvas - beauty and speed.

The 1976 750hp 3.0L CSL by Frank Stella is typical of his eccentric polygon period, a cross bodywork precision black and white square grid creation reminiscent of oversized graph paper. Unfortunately the representation of precision didn't exactly mesh with the car's outcome (the car failed to finish) at the 1976 24 Heures de Le Mans.

The progenitor of pop art Roy Lichtenstein preferred enumerating everything a car experiences (along with his signature "Benday dots") as it passes through sunrise on land on his 1977 300hp 2.0L 320i group five race version canvas. "I wanted the lines I painted to be a depiction the road showing the car where to go. The design also shows the countryside through which the car has traveled, only that this car reflects all of these things before actually having been on a road," explained Lichtenstein.

The main attraction of the exhibit was the 1979 M1 group four race version by pop art poster boy Andy Warhol. Presented as a vivid depiction of speed, the man who painted Marilyn Monroe in twelve to fifteen color combinations took to the 3.5L 470 hp inline six-cylinder M1 himself, completing the project in an astounding 23 minutes. If a car is really fast, all contours and colours will become blurred," said Warhol. The depiction apparently worked, as the work of art on wheels was employed in racing for the first and last time at the 1979 24 Heures de Le Mans. Driven by German Manfred Winkelhock and Frenchmen Hervé Poulain (yes, the guy who started the concept of BMW Art Cars) and Marcel Mignot from France, the car took to speed and achieved a sixth place in the overall ranks.

In Manila, the arrival of the BMW Art Cars serves as a continuation of the efforts of BMW Philippines to promote the appreciation of the arts. After its March 7-31 2007 Manila tour, the Art Cars of Stella, Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Done will travel to the Artsonje Museum in Seoul, Korea and then to Australia, New Zealand, and India.