Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Yesterday I made it over to LACMA to see the four BMW ART CARS on display and I was not disappointed. I had wanted to see Andy Warhol's M1 since I saw a video of him painting it on You Tube last year. The Warhol car in particular is the star of the show - although in a way it looks like someone set a five year old upon the car with finger paints - all together the paint and colors and haphazard nature of the application just make the M1 look like a car in motion even when it's dead stopped. While so many of Warhol's famous silkscreens weren't even made by his own hand (in some ways you could say the manufacture of his art was akin to Ford's Model T production), but here, Warhol painted and designed every inch of the M1 himself by hand. Even his signature on the left side of the rear bumper was signed using his fingertip.

LACMA put out a very nice brochure curated by Christopher Mount, a Design Historian. What Mount says in the intro paragraph just reiterates what I wrote in my previous post about some cars being art.

"In his preface to the catalogue for the 1951 exhibition Eight Automobiles at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Arthur Drexler observed, "Automobiles are hollow, rolling sculpture." Justifying their display in a museum, Drexler summed up his belief that if you could for a moment disregard the functional aspect of cars and instead look at them as works of art, appreciating their beautiful lines and fine craftmanship, you would see them in an entirely new light. Eight Automobiles was in fact the first time an art museum had ever displayed automobiles alongside more conventional works of art, treating them with the respect and regard usually given to sculpture. Countless exhibitions of automobiles in otherwise traditionally fine art museums have taken place since. The BMW Art Car project, which asks artists to transform both series production models and race cars into new "painted rolling sculpture," takes the relationship between art and automobiles to fascinating and unique heights."

Here are some of my digital photos and Polaroids from LACMA plus more text by Chistopher Mount from LACMA's catalogue brochure.

Andy Warhol (USA) 1979 BMW M1 Group 4 Race Version

"For Andy Warhol, the actual painting of the car became a performance piece, done by his own hand live before cameras as a publicity event. Warhol approached the car with a carefree spirit and an uncharacteristic interest in a sort of "action painting." The car, a BMW M1, is covered with multicolored areas of paint that suggest movement (blurred particularly at racing speeds), but also perhaps individual side panels taken from different cars. This greatly oscures the overall form of the car. With the handle edge of the brush, Warhol scraped lines into the painted surfaces, implying wind moving over the surface but also further de-materializing the surface of this fine racing car. "I adore the car," Warhol said after he'd finished. "It's much better than a work of art." Certainly from a formal perspective much differs from Warhol's paintings, which were often achieved with the use of stencils or silkscreens with a prescribed order."

Frank Stella (USA) 1976 BMW 3.0 CSL

"A car enthusiast and collector, Frank Stella employed the most rational approach to the painting of his BMW 3.0 CSL. "My design is like a blueprint transferred to the bodywork," he said, and in fact the graph paper-inspired decoration suggests a two-dimensional drawing inflated to three dimensions. Stella sought inspiration from the car's technical drawings and found this to be the "most agreeable solution." However, this is not truly a technical exercise, and Stella references his own sculptures and drawings with the recurring appearance of the French curve and other forms taken from an architect's drawing table."

Roy Lichtenstein (USA) 1977 BMW 320i Group 5 Race Version

"Like the Stella, Roy Lichtenstein's automobile (BMW 320i) incorporates an artistic vocabulary familiar to him (including Benday dots and flat areas of color), but also adapts to the unusualness of the assignment. He said, "I pondered on it for a long time and put as much into it as I possibly could....I wanted the lines I painted to be a depiction, the road showing the car where to go." Again the modulated strip of color indicates movement and wind traveling from front to back of the car. However, Lichtenstein goes further conceptually: "the design also shows the countryside through which the car has traveled....One could cal it an enumeration of eveyrthing a car experiences - only that this car reflects all of these things before they actually have been on the road." On one side a rising sun, and over the rest a depiction of the natural and physical forces that a car encounters on its daily journeys."

Robert Rauschenberg (USA) 1986 BMW 635 CSi

"Robert Rauschenberg took a completely different approach, not attempting to play with the materiality or non-materiality of the car or suggest speed, wind, or movement like the others. Instead his painting is static and approaches a painted car from an almost educational point of view. "I think mobile museums would be a good idea," he said. "This car is the fulfillment of my dream." Renowned for his use of collage and a multiplicity of materials and forms, Rauschenberg employed a kind of appropriation in his BMW 635 CSi. The most humorous of the automobiles, Rauschenberg painted the hubcaps as though they were fragile antique plates and reproduced Bronzino's famous Portrait of a Young Man on one side of the car and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' Le Grande Odalisque on the other. In a reference to the posssible ecological damage caused by the proliferation of automobiles, the artist included his own photographs of flowers, trees, and swamp grass to the hood and roof."


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the show or catalog, but what might not be well known is that the Warhol car was not raced (it was supposed to have been raced)...he used so much paint that the weight and un-aerodynamics of the paint interfered with the racing ability of the car, and so BMW made a copy of Andy's painting on another race car, this time using airbrush.

Lydia Marcus said...

Thanks for your comment.

Interesting, but I don't know if what you say is true or not because I haven't been able to find further verification online. From what I've been able to surmise from various sources I've read, the actual car did race:

"The car raced only once, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, driven by Manfred Winkelhock (Germany) and the Frenchmen Hervé Poulain and Marcel Mignot. It placed sixth overall and second in class."

And recently in July 2008, the car was raced again during the German Formula 1 Grand Prix to mark the 30th anniversary of the BMW M1.

More info about the car and a more thorough video of Warhol painting it.

The fourth BMW Art Car was created in 1977 by the Pop Art legend Andy Warhol who, unlike the previous artists, worked directly on the full-scale vehicle and painted the car himself.

For Andy Warhol to paint an automobile seems a natural. His studio was known as a factory and his greatest fame came from portraying Campbell's Soup cans.

Warhol explained the sweeping strokes of his car, "I tried to portray speed pictorially. If a car is moving really quickly, all the lines and colors are blurred."

All previous Art Car artists created their designs on 1:5 scale models, called maquettes, and had technicians reproduce their designs on the real cars. Warhol insisted on painting the real M1 himself.

He is reported to have spent all of 23 minutes painting the car. He ran his fingers through the paint to leave a personal touch.

When asked if he was pleased with the end result, he replied, "I love the car; it's better than the work of art itself."

You Tube video here: