In 1975, race driver and art enthusiast Hervé Poulain asked his friend and artist Alexander Calder to paint his race car for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a sports car endurance race held near the town of Le Mans, France, since 1923. (Luckily, the director of BMW Motorsport at the time, Jochen Neerpasch, was on board with the idea.) Calder covered the BMW 3.0 CSL in bold graphics with a large white drop on the hood holding Poulain's number 93. Calder, whose work spanned genres and decades, died a year later, in 1976, at the age of 78.
But what Poulain and Calder began, BMW has continued — albeit sporadically. BMW has commissioned artists to create designs for race cars every few years, for a total of 17 Art Cars so far. The company has also been an official partner of Art Basel in Miami Beach, Florida, since 2001. In 2015, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first artistic collaboration, BMW announced that in 2017, it would debut a pair of M6 GT3s painted by the youngest artist to create an Art Car, Cao Fei, and the oldest, John Baldessari.
Here are 10 of the most famous (or most striking) designs to embellish BMW Art Cars over the years:
1975: Alexander Calder used bold colors on the very first BMW Art Car, a 3.0 CSL.
1976: Frank Stella covered his 3.0 CSL in a grid of lines, comparable to engineer's graph paper.
1977: Roy Lichtenstein painted his 320i Group 5 car in waves of color and dots, similar to his signature comic-style paintings.
1979: Andy Warhol used swathes of bright colors on this M1 Group 4 car.
1986: Robert Rauschenberg, who is known for his innovative combinations of different objects and materials, used a similar style on this 635CSi.
1991: Esther Mahlangu was the first woman to paint an Art Car for BMW, covering a 525i in a traditional South African print.
1995: David Hockney painted the inside of this 850CSi on its outside.
1999: Jenny Holzer creates works of art using words, even on this silver and white V12 LMR, which reads “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT.”
2007: Olafur Eliasson removed the body of the H2R hydrogen car and replaced it with this striking ice sculpture.
2010: Jeff Koons painted colorful lines, like stars at warp speed, on this M3GT2 — the most recent BMW Art Car.