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Andy Warhol's BMW M1 Art Car in detail


Some of you may be familiar with the series of "Art Cars" that BMW has commissioned from internationally renowned artists over the years since the first Art Car by Alexander Calder ran at Le Mans in 1975.  Today we will look at the BMW M1 that was painted in 1979 by Andy Warhol, and which did indeed race at Le Mans as well.  Recently BMW was good enough to put this car on display in Grand Central Station in New York along with 4 other cars.  Having seen the car in photographs many times, I was eager to inspect it up close.  What I saw was thoroughly surprising to me.  In most photos it appears to have a matte finish, but in reality there is a glossy coating on the surface that almost gives the impression the paint is still wet.  The build up of paint is quite thick (one can only imagine the aerodynamic penalty this caused on the Mulsanne Straight at over 200mph.)  Warhol applied fields of various acrid colors of paint directly to the car himself with a wide brush --artists before him in the series had painted scale models from which the designs were transfered to the actual vehicle-- and then smeared the paint with his gloved fingertips.  Even the signature on the rear bumper was actually smeared into the paint by hand. 

In warhol's words:  "I tried to portray speed pictorially. If a car is moving really quickly, all the lines and colors are blurred."

Knowing that Warhol's aphorisms were often meant to mess with the mind of the listener more than actually illuminate his work, I don't really care what he said.  What really fascinates me about this piece, as someone who studied Art History, is what a real anomaly it is within Warhol's work.  Generally his work was created in a serial manner, by other people in his "factory," using techniques such as silk screening to remove or efface the hand of the artist.  In this manner, Pop was a rejection of the "action painting" of the Abstract Expressionists such as Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollock, which was about working quickly in the moment and focused heavily on the artist as creator.  Yet what Warhol's Art Car represents is essentially an "action painting" on a 3-dimensional canvas.  he is said to have painted the car in 23 minutes, and there is footage to be enjoyed of him doing the work. (see it here)

I am not going to go so far as to make any stabs at guessing what he was really thinking when he painted the car, but I think the piece gets ignored by academic Art Historians of Warhol because it is viewed as a novelty item rather than serious Art.  And perhaps it is.  But the fact remains that in creating this piece Warhol diverged radically from his typical approach to artmaking...And I just happen to think that is cool.

See the rest of my photos of the car here.

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