Cars and industrial surfaces that make artistic ‘canvases’

STIR @ IAF 2020
India Art Fair 2020 showcased the iconic BMW Art Car, BMW M1 group 4 racing version, painted by American Pop artist Andy Warhol in 1979.

by Georgina Maddox Published on : Feb 06, 2020

It is a well-known fact that the Industrial Revolution that began in Britain and rapidly spread to the rest of the world, changed how mankind saw the world around them. While the third quarter of the 19th century was marked by the evolution of the steam, iron and textile, the latter half was concentrated towards the development of steel, oil and electricity. This also led to the development of machinery and automobile revolution.

In the 1970s, BMW - one of the world’s leading manufacturer of luxury cars - commissioned three major artists as part of their Art Car Project — Alexander Calder, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein, who had worked upon the 1:5 scale models because the fabricators were able to transfer their imagery onto the actual race cars.  

However, known for his own rarity factor, it was Pop artist Andy Warhol who hand-painted the BMW Art Car. In 1979, when he was engaged to paint a BMW car, he rejected the scaled models that other artists worked with. Instead, he travelled to Munich and chose to paint directly on the latest model of the BMW car, the M1 race car. His palette comprised yellow, blue, green and red, and it is reported that he painted it with rapid brushstrokes and finished his creation in just 30 minutes. “I attempted to show speed as a visual image. When an automobile is really travelling fast, all the lines and colours are transformed into a blur,” Warhol is quoted to have said at the time. The Warhol M1 raced in Le Mans in Paris and came in second, creating its own blur.

Therefore, it was indeed thrilling to witness the display of Andy Warhol’s car at the India Art Fair 2020, with Rudratej Singh, President and Chief Executive Officer, BMW Group India, and Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair. “At BMW, we hold our design aesthetics very dear; this inspires us as well as our users to stretch their creative boundaries,” said Singh about the company’s association with artistic projects. “The intercultural platforms of creativity in the field of art, music, design and architecture is very core to us. India Art Fair is a perfect platform for us to reach out to our discerning customers and showcase the brand's aesthetics and design philosophy. Art is expressive and it can tell a story," he added.

Rudratej Singh, President and CEO BMW Group India; Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair; Thomas Girst, Head of Cultural Engagement, BMW Group | Andy Warhol | India Art Fair | STIRworld
Rudratej Singh, President and CEO BMW Group India; Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair; Thomas Girst, Head of Cultural Engagement, BMW Group Image Credit: BMW India; courtesy of India Art Fair

Jagpal pointed out that the Warhol car is special because, “Andy Warhol was the only artist at that time to take it upon himself to actually paint the car with his own hands. When you look at the car, you get a sense of his spirit of urgency.” She also added that, “Luxury car brands such as the BMW Group are extremely passionate and invested in high-quality engineering, technical design and aesthetics. They respect and support creativity in all forms and formats, contemporary art being one of them.”

The Skyscraper as art project at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany | Industrial surface as artistic canvas | STIRworld
The Skyscraper as art project at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany Image Credit: Georgina Maddox

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the advent of the skyscraper by the likes of Louis Sullivan, a new breed of industrial materials became rapidly available to artists. And artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began to respond with the medium of the collage, moving away from working with conventional artistic materials and rather using industrially produced objects. With Surrealists like Man Ray and then Alexander Calder, one began to see actual metallic objects, both painted or sculptural, appearing upon pedestals in art spaces, galleries, museums and public art projects.   

It was with the Art Deco Movement (late 1940s) and the advent of large-scale manufacturing that artists and designers desired to augment the appearance of mass-produced functional objects - everything from clocks and ashtrays to cars and buildings became part of artistic expression. Art Deco's pursuit of ‘beauty in all aspects of life’ was directly reflective of the relative newness and mass usage of machine-age technology, rather than traditional crafting methods to produce many objects. Needless to say, the car that was emblematic of mobility, speed and urban lifestyle became one of the favoured objects that artists chose to work with. However, it was not any old car that made the cut, it was a BMW that had the biggest slice out of the growing industrial art expressionism when it came to cars.

Nature Morte Au Compotier, 1915 (Still Life with Compotier) | Industrial surface as artistic canvas | STIRworld
Nature Morte Au Compotier, 1915 (Still Life with Compotier) Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia Imagers

We did enjoy the evocation of the whizz and zip of Warhol car at the India Art Fair, as we did when Indian artist Bose Krishnamachari came out with his own version of the painted art car, which went under the hammer at the Saffronart auction in 2013 to raise funds for the Kochi Biennale. One can never tell what is the next object that the artistic world is going to elevate to art, but we look forward to the drive!

India Art Fair 2020 took place from January 30 - February 2, 2020 at NSIC Exhibition Complex in New Delhi.

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About Author

Georgina Maddox

Georgina Maddox

Maddox is an independent critic-curator with 18-years-experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She blurs the lines of documentation, theory and praxis by involving herself in visual art projects. Besides writing on immersive art for STIR World, she is a regular contributor for The Hindu and Architectural Digest.

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