Celebrating 40 Years of BMW Art Cars

A few of the BMW Art Cars were displayed in a special exhibition during the 2015 Concorso d'Eleganza weekend held in Cernobbio, Italy. Copyright BMW AG/Christian Kain

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:

1975Alexander 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.

Frank Stella BMW 3.0 CSL, 1976
Copyright BMW AG

1977: Roy Lichtenstein painted his 320i Group 5 car in waves of color and dots, similar to his signature comic-style paintings.

Roy Lichtenstein BMW 320i, 1977
Copyright BMW AG

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.

Robert Rauschenberg BMW 635CSi, 1986
Copyright BMW AG

1991: Esther Mahlangu was the first woman to paint an Art Car for BMW, covering a 525i in a traditional South African print.

Esther Mahlangu BMW 525i, 1991
Copyright BMW AG

1995: David Hockney painted the inside of this 850CSi on its outside.

David Hockney BMW 850CSi, 1995
Copyright BMW AG

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.

Olafur Eliasson BMW H2R, 2007
Copyright BMW AG

2010: Jeff Koons painted colorful lines, like stars at warp speed, on this M3GT2 — the most recent BMW Art Car.

Jeff Koons BMW M3GT2, 2010
Copyright BMW AG