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Jeff Koons creates 17th BMW Art Car

Mon, 07 Jun 2010

Jeff Koons has unveiled his latest creation the 17th BMW Art Car, a M3 GT2 racecar painted in a vibrant explosion of colors that will race at Le Mans on 12 June. "I wanted to make visual the raw dynamism, the power and the vitality of this car," he told CDN at the Centre Pompidou in Paris last week. "The car's biological narrative is to perform. So I wanted to show this energy, and to also find out what is the narrative of the car once it performs."

To research the art car, Koons visited Munich to see the process of design, even driving a few racecars around the track to experience the sensation of speed. "We wanted to create an art car that raced and Koons was so on board with this," said Adrian Van Hooydonk, Director BMW Group Design. When, for instance, his first rendition added 20 kilos, he altered the design, translated the car's CAD designs from 3D to 2D for printing, and replaced direct paint for a vinyl wrap covered with two layers of clear coat.

Koons wanted to express the power of the racecar. "When the car isn't racing, when you walk around this art car, it has to make references to the power underneath the hood." He was particularly interested in visualizing speed at night at the 24-hour race. "He said when the car is speeding at night it feels like sparks are flying with streaks of light," van Hooydonk told us. "It was fascinating listening to him."

BMW has a 35-year history of commissioning art cars, dating back to 1975 when racecar driver Hervé Poulain commissioned his friend the American artist Alexander Calder to paint the 3.0 CSL, which he then raced at Le Mans. Calder was soon followed by heavyweights David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. All bar Olafur Eliasson, who worked with the H2R hydrogen car, have worked with racecars.

Art and money have always had a mutually seductive rapport – artists need the patronage of industry, and industry certainly benefits from the union. For van Hooydonk, the experience helped him see how relevant his work is in the real world. "Working with artists gives you a feedback from society," he explained. "Modern art is more so than ever part of popular culture – in many ways it is a mirror to society. It's therefore good to hear that they believe in what we do." Artists also work within big teams. He said Eliasson has around 70 people working on multiple projects. "There are a lot of similarities in our jobs."

Van Hooydonk would like to expand on the art car experience by working more extensively with others on a sideline project. On the recent participation with industrial designer Patricia Urquiola in Milan he said: "We gave her a 5 Series GT and told her how it was designed from the inside out. From this, she created this incredible installation that somehow forces you to view from the inside out. I would like to do a very different kind of art car project by working with industrial designers as they deal with objects in an entirely different way."

After the race the Koons car will join the other art cars for which he is physically excited. "When I was younger I wanted to have my works sit beside Warhol, Lichtenstein and this is why I am probably here today."

As a parting note, Koons said the experience was about "painting your own fantasy". You could be forgiven for reading too much into his car given the artist's past reputation for creating sexually explicit art. He explained: "The car is about the creation of life. It is a reference to that moment right before the creation."

By Nargess Shahmanesh Banks