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BMW’s art on the move

For 40 years, the BMW Art Cars project has seen artists ranging from Esther Mahlangu to Andy Warhol add their trademark touches to BMWs, turning the vehicles into canvases on wheels.

Artists Cao Fei and John Baldessari are currently working on the 18th and 19th cars in the series; aged 38 and 84 respectively, they are the youngest and oldest artists commissioned to date.

Artists Cao Fei
Artist Cao Fei
Artist Jonh Baldessari
Artist John Baldessari

Mahlangu’s car, a BMW 525i sporting multicoloured Ndebele patterns from bumper to bumper, was unveiled in 1991 and remains her signature artwork.

Mahlangu’s Ndebele-inspired BMW 525i

The series began when French art auctioneer and racing driver Hervé Poulain, along with the BMW Motorsport director at the time, invited mobile sculptor Alexander Calder to decorate a BMW 3.0 CSL, nicknamed the Batmobile for its striking spoilers.

The result, featuring ’70s swirls of disco-worthy reds and yellows, was raced at Le Mans in 1975. Designs by a who’s who of pop and postmodernism followed, including Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

You don’t have to be a patriotic South African to proclaim Mahlangu’s contribution one of the best. Its tribal patterns form a striking contrast with the vehicle’s familiar Western form, creating a timeless quality. Indeed, her Ndebele sedan was a showstopper in the Global Africa Project exhibition at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design.

Baldessari and Fei’s rolling sculptures will hit the museum circuit and the racetrack next year. Both are decorating M6 GT3 race cars – a homage to BMW’s racing heritage. The two artists, a pillar of the Californian art scene and a Chinese multimedia conceptualist, represent two strands of a collection embracing both cultural heavyweights and up-and-coming artists from non-Western countries.



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