BMW’s Most Innovative Art Cars

The Guggenheim, MoMA, and the Whitney; these all seem like fine locations to take in an afternoon of contemporary art. But what about the main stage at Le Mans? Some of the most innovative offerings to the art world have been art cars unveiled by the BMW Art Car Project at the Grand Prix of endurance in France.

Bold colourful horizontal strips create a cartoonish effect of motion on Jeff Koons' BMW collaboration.

Founded in 1975, the project challenges the relationship between design and manufacturing and aims to showcase the brand’s commitment to the realm of the arts by partnering with the world’s most influential artists. Below, some of the most innovative art cars throughout the ages, from Frank Stella to Andy Warhol:

Frank Stella BMW 3.0 CSL, 1976


Frank Stella's Art Car features an oversized, blueprint pattern facing the entirety of the car.

The monochromatic color scheme and geometric lines used in Frank Stella’s BMW 3.0 CSL harkens back to his early black paintings of the 50s and 60s. To seek out his inspiration for his 1976 piece, Stella went back to the drawing board, literally. The blueprint pattern encasing the racecar is a nod to the technical aspects of racing from which Stella sought his inspiration.

Jeff Koons BMW M3GT2, 2010


Jeff Koons BMW M3GT2 art car

The Jeff Koons–commissioned BMW M3GT2 is a study in explosion. Known for his larger-than-life bold sculptures, speed and movement inspired Koons’ BMW M3GT2. Koons is no stranger to working with bright colours and pop culture.  It’s no surprise that he agreed to create for the iconic luxury vehicle manufacturer. The self-referential piece offers a commentary on racing, with its bold horizontal stripes creating an effect of cartoonish motion.

Esther Mahlangu BMW 525i, 1991


Esther Mahlangu's commissioned Art Car, featuring the bold colourful tribal print of the Ndebele people.

Known for her traditional Ndebele paintings, South African artist Esther Mahlangu was the first female to be commissioned for the project in 1991. Staying true to the bold, geometric patterns that define her work, her BMW 525i transfers “her tribe’s traditional means of expression to an object of contemporary technology.”

Andy Warhol BMW M1, 1979


Bold blocks of colour blur into eachother on Andy Warhol's BMW Art Car.

It would be wrong not to list Warhol’s BMW M1 amongst the most innovative art cars. His obvious fascination with elements of popular culture is undoubtedly what led to his collaboration in 1979.  This when he produced his racecar in an unorthodox fashion.  Painting it entirely himself without using a scale model, the resulting repeating, loud colors is decidedly Warholian. The 3D project adds to his iconic portfolio of commentary on American life.

Ken Done BMW M3, 1989


Bright, happy, colors and simple painted parrots and parrot fish cover Ken Done's BMW Art Car.

Inspired by animals native to his hometown, Australian Ken Done’s car features parrot fish and parrots.  These animals he felt paralleled the speed and beauty of BMW’s vehicles. His signature bright, happy colors and animal motifs challenge the perceived relationship between nature and technology.

Olafur Eliasson BMW H2R, 2007


Soft orange light shines through layers of delicate ice that encase Olafur Eliasson's BMW collaboration.

Finally, no list of the most innovative art cars would be complete without a mention of the BMW H2R designed by Olafur Eliasson in 2007. He is known for incorporating natural elements such as air and water into his designs.  Eliasson’s collaboration featured an exoskeleton made from delicate layers of ice.  Fueled entirely by hydrogen, his work ignited a conversation about the possibilities of sustainability and car manufacturing. The BMW H2R has established nine records for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Craftsmanship, leading technology, and storied heritage are only a part of BMW’s global reputation for leadership. With initiatives like the Art Car Project, the corporation demonstrates its commitment to innovation beyond the walls of the factory.

Photos: Adam Przezak /, all others via BMW Art Cars

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BMW's Most Innovative Art Cars