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Artist-Transformed BMWs in London Museum Exhibit

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BMW embellished by artist Jeff Koons

BMW embellished by artist Jeff Koons.

Many car enthusiasts see their cars as works of art, whether it’s for the design, the engineering, or the sheer fun of driving.

And soon the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London will give people more reasons to see cars as art, with “Art Drive! BMW Art Car Collection” — an exhibit of BMWs that noted artists first began transforming in 1975. The cars will be on display from July 21 through August 4 on six floors in the NCP Car Park (a parking garage) in Shoreditch as part of the London 2012 Festival.

As a BMW press release says, the exhibit, which it calls the BMW Art Car Collection, will include cars that became blank canvases for such artists as Alexander Calder, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Ernst Fuchs, Robert Rauschenberg, M.J Nelson, Ken Done, Matazo Kayama, Cesar Manrique, Jeff Koons, A.R Penck, Esher Mahlangu, Sandro Chia, Jenny Holzer, and David Hockney.

Fans of BMWs and art in general will get to see a wide variety of work in the show, even though all of the art is based on BMWs. For example, British artist David Hockney painted his vision of the interior of an 850 CSi onto its exterior, complete with internal engine parts and his favorite dachshund as a passenger, Claire Martin reports for the MSN Autos blog Exhaust Notes. And, Martin writes, American artist Jeff Koons made an M3 GT2 (that competed in the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2010) look like it is in constant motion with his spikes of colorful paint.

But not everyone who loves art is a fan of this show. Critic Jonathan Jones (nostalgic for creations like Salvador Dali’s “rain-filled taxi”) writes on his OnArt blog for The Guardian that BMW needs to take more risks when it chooses artists to work on BMWs. He points out that when BMW first began commissioning artists they hired Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol:

All the artists were established, and all were arguably past their best. Anyway, the fact that they painted BMWs is not a major aspect of their artistic lives. The big problem with BMW art cars, as an artistic venture, is that BMW only invites renowned, A-list artists, and appears to see their cars as monumental works for the ages. The whole thing would look very different if more, younger, artists were invited and allowed to do what they want, including total destruction of the car.

Jones does, however, approve of those BMWs in this show that were transformed by Koons, (whose car he likens to a “revved up hedgehog”) and Olafur Eliasson, who created a surreal ice-car. And overall, although Jones feels the show is best suited as a shopping mall event, he does not want to dissuade car fans in general: “I am not saying boys will not get a kick out of these high-art hot rods. If custom cars are your thing there are certainly some good ideas here for pimping up your ride.”

But fans of more edgy car-based art might wish for an exhibit featuring “Rainy Taxi,” which Wikipedia describes this way:

Rainy Taxi (1938), also known as Mannequin Rotting in a Taxi-Cab, is a three dimensional artwork created by Salvador Dali, consisting of an actual automobile with two mannequin occupants.

A male chauffeur is in the front seat, and a female sits in the back seat. A system of pipes causes ‘rainfall’ within the taxi. The female wears an evening dress. Her hair is tousled. Lettuce and chicory grow around her. Live snails crawl across her. The chauffeur has a shark’s head.

The Rainy Taxi by Salvador Dali

The Rainy Taxi by Salvador Dali.

In any event, you don’t need to travel to London to see the ICA show; you can take a virtual tour of the exhibit here:


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