: BMW Art Car at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019
Text & Photos Nicholas Biebuyck

While the 2020 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong may have been cancelled, we can still use the period leading up to the usual date for the annual art gathering in Asia to look back at past runnings. One of the most fitting displays for our readership was the BMW Art Car that was presented in 2019.

In years prior, thanks to the fair’s partnership with BMW, the stand outside of the main entrance has been graced by examples such as the Jenny Holzer V12 LMR car, the M6 GT3 featuring a design by Cao Fei, and the Frank Stella 3.0 CSL. In 2019, we got to see the very beginning of the Art Car program, the 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL, painted by Alexander Calder, the famed American sculptor, and what would be one of the great artist’s final works before his passing.

Calder and Poulain studying a scale model featuring the artwork.

Originally commissioned by French auctioneer and racing driver, Hervé Poulain, for his privateer entry in the 1975 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he shared duties with Sam Posey and Jean Guichet, the car would retire after nine hours due to a broken prop shaft, and never turned a wheel in anger again.

The work is interesting for Calder as he is most well-known for mobiles that reside in the most important art museums and collections in the world, but he also produced many paintings during his career. In a way, the Art Car blends these two mediums, and through his use of strong contrasting colours and flowing shapes across the different elements of the bodywork, Calder creates the illusion of speed, even when the car is stationary. Curiously, this was not the first vehicle Calder had lent his distinctive style to: in 1973, he provided the livery for Braniff International Airways’ Douglas DC-8.

A print advert for Braniff International Airways featuring the Douglas DC-8 liveried by Calder.

What would follow on from the 3.0 CSL envisaged by Calder would be an amazing portfolio of works by other great artists applied to BMW cars. With names like Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons and John Baldessari, it is an outstanding oeuvre that continues to this day.