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The BMW Art Car by Julie MehretuThe BMW Art Car by Julie Mehretu

The BMW Art Car by Julie Mehretu

5 min reading time
For the design of the BMW M Hybrid V8 as the 20th BMW Art Car, American abstract painter Julie Mehretu combines her creative work with her enthusiasm for automotive design and speed. Gain exclusive insights into the development of the latest vehicle in the long-standing BMW Art Car Collection.

21 May 2024

What do we actually mean by art? A work of art is often understood as the deliberate arrangement of content in order to appeal to the senses or emotions. A parallel to characteristic automotive design. This is where the circle closes with the BMW Art Cars – since its premiere in 1975, the unique and diverse collection of almost 20 one-offs (➜ Read also: Wild at Art: The History of the BMW Art Cars) has symbolised the legendary combination of automotive icons and world-famous artists.

Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jenny Holzer, Cao Fei and Jeff Koons all designed a BMW racing car – and later series-production cars – using various graphic and artistic techniques and based on their own ideas.

For the design of the 20th BMW Art Car, Julie Mehretu set out to create a playground for the imagination. During the creative process, she transformed one of her iconic image motifs into a three-dimensional representation on the BMW M Hybrid V8 racing car prototype (➜ Read also: Classic racing cars: BMW legends).

How did Mehretu technically implement this transformation, and what inspired her to design the new addition to the traditional moving works of art? We provide exclusive insights.

Julie Mehretu

The process of art brings joy
Julie Mehretu, BMW Art CarJulie Mehretu, BMW Art Car
For the design of the 20th BMW Art Car, American abstract painter Julie Mehretu combines her creative work with her enthusiasm for automotive design.

The works of the American artist have their own language of alienated photographs, combined with gestural drawings and abstract painting. For Mehretu, her creative passion is also a privilege: ‘For me, art has always been a haven of well-being. I feel free and inventive, and this feeling of vitality has given me great joy. It was both a drive and a promise.’

Her large-format and highly complex works, which consist mainly of multiple layers of synthetic resin, are often reminiscent of architectural and urban plans that hint at various types of movement: flight paths, wind and water currents, motorways, underground railways and telephone networks.

When Mehretu approaches a new painting, she does not follow a straight line. ‘I have no idea what the painting will look like when I start. It is a continually evolving process, and the multi-layered work emerges all by itself.’ It is about neither the unconscious nor the conscious, but rather about following one’s intuition.

A work of art as a portal

When searching for inspiration and the creative thread for the design of the 20th BMW Art Car, Mehretu also relied on her gut instincts and her process of further development. ‘It was only after I attended the 24-hour race in Daytona last year that I realised how I could approach my interpretation of the BMW Art Car. I watched the race, the drivers and the pit crew. I realised that this is about innovation, imagination and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.’

It was a formative real-time experience for Mehretu. She thought about Frank Stella’s grid and how it could be a tribute to earlier BMW Art Car artists. ‘I kept thinking about this picture in my studio that I had just finished. The model of the new BMW Art Car was standing next to it, and the thought occurred to me: what if we tried to move the car through the painting? What might the painting look like if the car were to drive through the work and be influenced by it – as if through a kind of portal?’

Mehretu compares the process to the reinterpretation of a piece of music. The interplay of the surfaces and geometry of the vehicle design remix elements of her painting and open up new perspectives: ‘The creative possibilities that open up in this new three-dimensional space and the ideas and innovations that come to fruition are all quite revealing.’

I am fascinated by the sheer volume of data, calculations and knowledge that has gone into making this object.
Julie Mehretu


Technically complex car wrapping

In accordance with the regulations of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the 3D version of the artwork can be applied to the BMW M Hybrid V8 only with a car wrapping. Julie Mehretu has therefore based the design of the 20th BMW Art Car on the colour and form of her painting ‘Everywhen’: alienated photographs, dotted grids, neon-coloured spray paint and her iconic gestural markings. She transfers the resulting image motif as a high-resolution image onto the contours of the vehicle captured in a 3D scan. This is how the unique artistic car wrapping of the BMW M Hybrid V8 is created.

To this end, Julie Mehretu worked closely with the German team Race Spirit to design the 20th BMW Art Car. Race Spirit was already involved in the realisation of the design created by Jeff Koons (➜ Read also: Jeff Koons and the Art of Leadership) for the 17th edition of the BMW Art Car Collection.

BMW Art Car, artistic car wrappingBMW Art Car, artistic car wrapping
Gertraud Brenninger from Race Spirit during the unique artistic car wrapping of the BMW Art Car #20.

Moving motion blur

For Gertraud Brenninger from Race Spirit, the adventure of the 20th BMW Art Car began with a digital puzzle piece. In order to transfer the 2D artwork to the vehicle, the surface of the BMW M Hybrid V8 was divided into individual small sections, and these surfaces were used as templates for the respective section of the painting. For aerodynamic reasons, there were strict specifications as to where car wrapping was possible – in some cases, with millimetre precision.

‘Julie Mehretu and I as well as the whole team were united by this joy in technology and precision (➜ Read also: Sheer Driving Pleasure: the History of the BMW Slogan). The 3D visualisation and rendering of the templates required immense amounts of data and computing power. We tried out various pattern and colour profiles on a 1:5 scale model. And felt our way forwards bit by bit.’ It was a creative process to which everyone kept adding. For example, Julie’s original plan was to use a matt car wrapping. However, as the work progressed, she decided that a glossy version would better emphasise her graphic idea on the three-dimensional canvas.

Several months of work went into the car wrapping project. Brenninger was impressed by Mehretu’s meticulous preparation. ‘Julie was concerned with what you particularly notice when the car is travelling fast – namely lines. That’s why she added and printed out individual horizontal lines that were subsequently incorporated.’

Mehretu also intentionally plays with deliberate inconsistencies in the connections. Some of the puzzle pieces are offset. The colour transition is right, but the patterns with the concise markings are not flush. ‘I wanted the car to have something that felt “glitchy” so that when it’s in motion, it looks like a blur’, says Mehretu. ‘The Art Car does not seem like it is displaying a painting, but rather that it has literally sucked in the work of art through its kidneys (➜ Read also: Hallmark: 16 designs of the signature BMW kidney grille).”

Racetrack instead of museum

An integral part of the history of the BMW Art Car Collection is the close connection between art and motorsport. The first BMW Art Car, which was designed by Alexander Calder in 1975, made its dynamic debut at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans. Shortly after its premiere as the 20th BMW Art Car, Julie Mehretu’s BMW Art Car will queue up at Le Mans with the matching starting number 20. The work of art will thus not only be talked about, but also seen, heard and felt.


Author: Markus Löblein; Art: Ena Aichinger, Lucas Lemuth; Photos: BMW; Video: BMW



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