BMW Commissions Jeff Koons For 2010 Art Car: Will A Chinese Artist Be Next?

China Already World’s Largest Auto Market, Set To Be Largest Luxury Market Within 5 Years; As Wealthy Chinese Become More Interested In Culture, Will BMW Bring Together Chinese Art And Automotive Luxury?

BMW Art Cars have been designed by artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jenny Holzer and Roy Lichtenstein

BMW Art Cars have been designed by artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jenny Holzer and Roy Lichtenstein

This week, BMW announced that this year’s “art car” — a program the luxury automaker has sponsored since 1975 — will be designed by top American conceptual artist Jeff Koons. Koons, who has expressed interest in taking part in the art car program since 2003, will be the 17th artist in the program. According to the New York Times:

[BMW’s art car program], which began in 1975…has employed leading artists, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella and Jenny Holzer. Most of the artists have painted on BMW cars (both road cars and racecars). The last Art Car, Olafur Eliasson’s “Your Mobile Expectations: BMW H2R Project,” from 2007, was covered in ice and had to be viewed in a room that was cooled to subzero temperatures. Some BMW executives grumbled at its inaccessibility.

BMW said that Mr. Koons, who turned 55 last month, had expressed an interest in participating in the program in 2003. Mr. Koons said he drove BMWs 20 years ago while working in Munich, Germany, and came to appreciate them.

The BMW art car program, as one of the most high-profile and established business/art programs, is an annual opportunity for the brand to engage in unique cultural realms and reach new audiences. Following BMW’s announcement that Koons would be this year’s artist, the Jing Daily editorial team discussed the question of whether a Chinese artist could be included among the ranks of “art car artists” in the near future.

There are several reasons why we think a Chinese artist would benefit the art car program, but a few of them in particular stand out: One, aside from Japanese artist Matazo Kayama (1990), no Asian artists have been included in the program; Two, BMW is enjoying unprecedented (and still growing) popularity in the mainland Chinese auto market (which, as of last year, has become the largest auto market in the world and is unlikely to lose that distinction for years to come); and Three, the status of top Chinese contemporary artists has risen immensely over the past three decades, putting them on par with their peers elsewhere.

1.) Only One Asian Artist Chosen Since 1975

In 1990, BMW commissioned Japanese artist Matazo Kayama to design an art car. For his car, Kayama “wanted on the one hand to express his fascination with BMW technology and on the other evoke vivid associations with modern Japan.” Last fall, Chinese artist Lu Hao decorated a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano in the style of ancient Chinese Ge Kiln porcelain, evoking aspects of China’s historical past while calling attention to modern China’s fascination with luxury and automobiles. As we wrote at the time:

Lu’s Ferrari features a unique trompe-l’œil paint job incorporating the faint green hue and distinctive cracked pattern of Ge Kiln porcelain from China’s Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279), but some of the most fascinating elements of the “China” edition are in the car’s interior. From Auto Express:

The ignition button is carved from jade and insribed with the ancient Xiao Zhuan symbols for ‘engine start’, while other novel additions include a rev-counter marked with Chinese characters, a matching luggage set embroided with the route of the silk road – traditionally the most important trade routes in China – and an engraved plaque unique to each car.

Choosing a top Chinese contemporary artist for the art car program add a new, modern Chinese voice to the mix, reflecting the country’s growing status in the world and how far it has come since Alexander Calder designed the first BMW art car in 1975.

2.) BMW is enjoying unprecedented (and still growing) popularity in the mainland Chinese auto market

Last year, sales of BMW and Mini brands in China came to a record-breaking 90,536 units, up 36% from 65,822 units in 2008. In 2010, this number is expected to grow even further, with Ian Robertson, BMW’s sales chief, saying recently, “We are once again aiming for growth in the double- digit percentage range in this country [in 2010].” Reflecting the prestige that Chinese car lovers place on German luxury automobiles, BMW now enjoys enviable popularity throughout the Chinese mainland.

In China, many of the same individuals who have become BMW “collectors” over the past few decades have also become interested in collecting Chinese art. Among these collectors, those on the younger end tend to favor contemporary Chinese art over traditional art or antiquities, and including a Chinese artist in the art car program would be an excellent way to reach these influential, and important, individuals and stoke even more enthusiasm for the BMW name in China.

3.) The Status of Chinese Contemporary Artists Has Risen Immensely Over The Past 30 Years

Since the late 1970s, the contemporary art scene in China has flourished, with artists like Ai Weiwei, Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, and Xu Bing finding favor with art collectors and museum directors around the world. While it would be reasonable to argue in the early years of the BMW art cars program that China had no world-class artists on par with their contemporaries in the West, this is clearly no longer the case. China’s art world is evolving and maturing, and with the top Chinese contemporary artists consistently making up a significant proportion of global “Top 100” lists, it is only reasonable to think that a Chinese artist should be chosen to take part in the BMW art car program within the next few years.

And if BMW has a hard time deciding which Chinese artist to commission, the company can consider some of the big names included in the recent “Top 100 Figures in Chinese Contemporary Art” survey, announced at an event in Beijing by Art Value Magazine. BMW did, after all, sponsor said event, with Karl-Heinz Schmidt, president of BMW China’s automotive trading division, telling reporters, “I am proud to see so many talented artists be given awards,” said Karl-Heinz Schmidt…[t]hey all deserve our applause and awards for their efforts during these hard times. In the near future they are certain to give us more art and beauty.”

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Art & Auction, Culture, Transportation