The BMW Art Cars project has built a lasting link between contemporary art and BMW motorsport. There are no sponsor stickers on these cars – just the beauty and timelessness of art.

In addition to creating some gorgeous show pieces for the BMW museum, the Art Car project is more important now than anyone first envisioned when signing off on the initial Calder work in 1975. Each of the cars represents the artist’s point of view at the time, expressed in the same medium: a BMW.

The artists selected over the years have broad backgrounds, nationalities and portfolios that could almost never be compared directly outside of the Art Cars collection, because in their daily craft they all choose wildly different mediums to express themselves. Whether the work of a sculptor, painter, graphic designer, conceptualist or visionary, the end products are cars that are truly magnificent to behold.

For 2013, BMW Portland is sponsoring a new contest that is open to anyone. The winning artist’s work will adorn a 2013 BMW 650i, and the details are available here. The deadline for submissions is May 15th, 2013, so start your creative engines and submit a winner!

click past the jump for a timeline of the BMW Art Cars project and image galleries of the 18 stunning BMW Art Cars so far.

BMW Art Cars - Timeline and Image Galleries

What started as a gentleman racer’s idea to decorate his car in a unique livery has bloomed into a global phenomenon that’s captivated the attention of motorsport fans, car guys and art minds in the 40 years since its inception. Some are more beautiful than others, but all share the true pedigree of being original BMW Art Cars. The cars have more tour dates booked than The Rolling Stones, with appearances at posh events, galleries and museums worldwide keeping their schedules very busy.

2010 - Jeff Koons - BMW M3 GT2

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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American artist, Jeff Koons, took inspiration for his car from images of speed and power in racing, and the car wears No. 39 in homage to the 1979 M1 Art Car from Andy Warhol. The bright contrasting colors flow smoothly from the nose rearward to mimic the aerodynamics of a car at high speed, with the sponsor stickers blurring in the viewer’s eye to create the linear design flow. These comic-inspired "speedlines" pay respect to Roy Lichtenstein’s 320i Turbo art car. Koons’ designs for the printed color strips were finessed using BMW CAD/CAM and the artist even added road debris graphics around the wheel wells, similar to what a normal GT2 M3 would pick up during a normal Le Mans 24-hour race, which the art car competed in with Koons as part of the driver crew.

2009 - Robin Rhode - BMW Z4

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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South African Robin Rhode’s Z4 is actually the only car in this group that is not considered an “official” art car, because Rhode took a more liberal interpretation of the BMW ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’ mantra. He hooned the Z4 around in pirouettes, using paint as the lubricant to get the car sideways and create an elaborate, giant installation of paint skids across the floor of the photo studio. The resulting painted tire circles invoke Jackson Pollock works – who splatter-painted with his canvas lying horizontal on the floor. Only once dry could the work be mounted on a wall.

2007 - Olafur Eliasson - BMW H2R

BMW Art Car Roundup
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Danish artist, Eliasson, presented the most bizarre and abstract of the BMW Art Car collection with his H2R sculpted in ice. The prickly looking structure represents the interconnected relationship between the automobile and global warming. To create the work, Eliasson stripped the body panels of the experimental hydrogen prototype before constructing a latticework to support the ice, which was then cut down using power tools into the shape shown here. The cultural commentary is that this car, like the Earth, can only be sustained in a freezer. Once removed and displayed, the Eliasson H2R was designed to melt before your eyes.

1999 - Jenny Holzer - BMW V12 LMR

BMW Art Car Roundup High Resolution Exterior
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Ohio native, Jenny Holzer, is an active avoider who doesn’t particularly like cars or the traditional figurative imagery in art. Instead, she prefers written words to convey her disdain for western commercialism. The Le Mans prototype spells out “Protect Me From What I Want” in chrome letters and phosphorescent paint, to keep the white racecars weight as low as possible and create a glow-in-the-dark racecar that glows blue in the dark. The other “Truisms” from her work that appear on the car are:

“The unattainable is invariably attractive”
“You are so complex you don’t respond to danger”
“Lack of charisma can be fatal”
“Monomania is a prerequisite of success”
“What urge will save us now that sex won’t?”

Truisms, indeed.

1995 - David Hockney - BMW 850 CSi

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Los Angeles-based British artist David Hockney’s vision for his art car was to show the innermost aspects of the car on the outside, and to also let the outside of the car match some of the passing landscapes drivers’ see on the road, like green fields. Examples of the include engine details that appear on the hood, and the silhouette of a driver and steering column on the driver’s side of the car.

1992 - Sandro Chia - BMW M3 GTR

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Italian-born Sandro Chia also took a reflective tone similar to Hockney, showing faces and profiles of people on the side of the vehicle. These represent the covetous stares of people he passes in the car, acting like an artistic mirror.

1991 - Esther Mahlangu - BMW 525i

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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The first woman chosen to design an art car, South African Esther Mahlangu, chose tribal and ornamental shapes and colors that reflect her background in the Ndebele tribe. The BMW project was a springboard for her, popularizing her ethnic graphics and zig-zag motifs among a much wider audience, and inspiring her to transition from outdoor murals to more saleable canvas.

1991 - A. R. Penck - BMW Z1

BMW Art Car Roundup High Resolution Exterior
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The Z1 was BMW’s late-80s roadster folly. Not sold in the U.S., the Z1’s claim to fame (besides its high price) are its electric doors that sink into the bodywork to get in and out, and the Z1 can be driven with its doors down – a truly al fresco experience. An admirer of Picasso and Rembrandt, Penck also takes inspiration from ancient cave paintings. His “stick figures” began in 1960 and appear on the Z1, which he painted lipstick red with black accents designed to look three dimensional.

1990 - Cesar Manrique - BMW 730i

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Spanish landscape artist, architect and sculptor Cesar Manrique’s vision for the flagship 730i Art Car was to fuse the ideas of smooth flow between nature and technology. His bright colors, broad sweeping strokes and the bold interplay of the shape are designed to make the car look like it passes through the air and environment effortlessly.

1990 - Matazo Kayama - BMW 535i

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Japanese artist Kayama created a gorgeous mosaic using traditional metalcut and foil techniques for which he is celebrated in his home country. Before the very delicate appliques, Kayama airbrushed dark blue shadows onto the silver sedan to emphasize its elegant forms, linear design and German style.

1989 - Ken Done - BMW M3 Group A

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Australian Ken Done’s vision for his Art Car was to embody the joyful people and gorgeous, tropical landscapes of his native land. The wide sweeping strokes demonstrate a creature moving rapidly through the world, which he also highlighted with parrots and parrot fish on a few body surfaces. A big fan of the M3’s power and speed, the artist blended the power and speed concepts with his love for natural Aussie landscapes like beaches and colorful gardens.

1989 - Michael Jagamarra Nelson - BMW M3

BMW Art Car Roundup High Resolution Exterior
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Representing a vastly different Australian perspective on nature, Nelson paints with his culture’s traditional aboriginal themes. While the work looks abstract, in fact, it is an intricate aerial view of a landscape, which includes religious mythology, cave men, water and wildlife. In stark contrast to the other works, which sometimes took months or years to complete, Nelson worked tirelessly to complete his Art Car in only seven days ahead of a major Aussie race in which the car competed.

1986 - Robert Rauschenberg - BMW 635 CSi

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Known as a pioneer of the American pop art movement, Florida-born Rauschenberg was the first BMW Art Car designer to use photographic material from other artists in his work. On each door there are famous art works by classical painters, while the rest of the body is decorated in reeds and grasses native to the everglades he knew as a boy. The artist cherished the idea of a rolling art museum and included hubcaps painted to look like ancient plates. The resulting work is very subtle but also sexually charged, via the ladder climbing a tree next to the Ingres print showing a reclined female form.

1982 - Ernst Fuchs - BMW 635 CSi

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Austrian Fuchs is a bit of an enigma. A few things mark out his work, most notably the flame graphics Fuchs allows to pour from the panel gaps of the car, as though it were on fire inside. Thematically, Fuchs describes his work in terms of universal animal emotions like fear, joy, triumph and defeat. The artist describes the mind of a rabbit running in front of traffic; terrified by the cars, but elated to survive the risky road crossing. Images in the gallery below show Fuchs signing his name of the finished car, flanked by Playboy Bunnies. His 635 CSi was the first non-racecar to be commissioned, and he was the first European enlisted for the art car project.

1979 - Andy Warhol - BMW M1 Group 4

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Pittsburgh native, Andy Warhol, cherished his M1 as both a medium and a terrific, fast car to drive. Warhol’s M1 was painted by the artist himself in large block patterns of color meant to blur together at high speed. To better represent motion even when still, Warhol smudged the paint and used his hands to create streaks of motion in the wet paint. The Warhol M1 raced in the 1979 Le Mans with the originator of the BMW Art Car project, Herve Poulain, as one of its three drivers.

1977 - Roy Lichtenstein - BMW 320i Turbo

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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New Yorker Roy Lichtenstein’s 320i Turbo was painted to represent the landscapes through which the car would race. The linear, moving forms that cascade along the car mimic road lines as well as the passing scenery. His long-drawn “speedlines” and “benday dots” also simulated motion when the car is still – popular techniques in comic book illustrations.

1976 - Frank Stella - BMW 3.0 CSL

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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Designed to look like the graph paper, the black and white Frank Stella CSL marked a total contrast to the colorful Calder work that kicked off the series of art cars. Stella’s idea for the artwork was a car wearing its original blueprints on the outside. The crosshatched lines also accentuated the CSL’s wild spoilers, ducts and flares by making them pop toward the eye of the viewer.

1975 - Alexander Calder - BMW 3.0 CSL

BMW Art Car Roundup Exterior
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The original BMW Art Car is arguably the most classically beautiful of this collection. Completed by the world-renowned sculptor the year before his death, the Calder CSL may be the artist’s magnum opus. Throughout his life, Calder loved movable sculptures because their beauty could be shared with a wider group; a high-speed BMW was a perfect fit.

Two years before, Calder completely the custom paintwork of a Braniff jetliner as well, perhaps inspiring the legendary synergy between high-concept art and the disparate world of industrial design.

Images Credit: BMW Art Car Collection

Source: BMW Portland Art Car Contest

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