Celebrated New York Artist Julie Mehretu Introduces The 20th BMW Art Car

Arts & Celebrities


Julie Mehretu has transformed the BMW M Hybrid V8 racing car into an exciting piece of performance art, continuing the BMW Art Car tradition to continue and compete at the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans race in June 2024. The famous contemporary artist was a unanimous choice. by an independent jury of international museum directors.

The BMW Art Car project began in 1975 when racing driver Hervé Poulain casually asked his artist friend Alexander Calder to paint a 3.0 CSL that later raced at Le Mans. Since then, the brush of some of the most notable names in the history of art have stroked these racing cars.

Space, movement and energy are central motifs in Mehretu's work. For the design of the BMW Art Car, he refers to the vocabulary of color and form of his monumental painting Everywhere (2021 – 2023), which is currently on view at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice as part of the artist's major retrospective and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Mehretu worked with 3D maps to transfer the motif of his two-dimensional work to the contours of the three-dimensional vehicle to ensure that the elaborate elaboration allows the fully engineered M Hybrid V8 to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Mehretu also designed the race suits and helmet for the BMW drivers competing in the race.

Everywhere blurs a photograph taken in Washington on January 6, 2021 and the onslaught on Capitol Hill, but Mehretu wanted the Art Car project to find its own meaning through the manufacturing process, the race and the marks of time. The project had been proposed in the early weeks of the pandemic when the world was closed, and Mehretu saw it as a way to express a metaphorical portal to the possibilities of the future.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1970, Mehretu moved to the United States with her family when she was seven, and now lives and works in New York City and Berlin. In his practice, he involves the viewer in a dynamic visual articulation of contemporary experience, a representation of social behavior and the psychogeography of space exploring palimpsests of history, from geological time to a modern phenomenology of the social.

For the first time, BMW is expanding the Art Car commission to include a two-year collaboration for a series of translocal Pan-African media workshops in which filmmakers tour various African cities in 2025 and 2026, and concludes with a major exhibition at the Zeitz Contemporary Museum. Art Africa in Cape Town. The overall vision is to provide a forum for artists to develop new paths towards a just civic future in their respective communities.

I caught up with Mehretu ahead of the reveal to understand her approach and see what the project means to her.

How would you describe your BMW Art Car?

I don't think of this car as something you'd put on display; I think of it as something that will race at Le Mans. It is a performative painting. The BMW Art Car is only complete once the race is over.

What does the BMW Art Car project mean to you?

What could be more radically insane than a car flying at high speed over the ground. The whole project is about invention, about imagination, about pushing the limits of what is possible.

How was the experience of working on this project?

What was stimulating was that it's completely outside of my normal creative process: the overlap is in the aspect of design and mobility and invention and imagining other possibilities. It's been interesting to learn about it and talk to the other designers, the engineers, the physicists and be able to work on a prototype. It's been exciting to be a part of inventing something else. It is a massive collaborative effort and many dreams have been created.

What are the physical challenges of translating artwork, a painting to a car?

One thing I didn't want to do is paint a car. The question for me is how do you deal with this so it doesn't just become a decorative project. It was good to talk to the race car designers and see how there are various lines and forces working to keep this vehicle on the ground and accelerating quickly on the ground. Also, you understand how they thought to design the car to look faster.

At what stage did you come up with this idea of ​​racing cars through your painting?

After watching the car race, I conceptually imagined watching it go through a painting, and I thought about how the car inhales the painting, transports itself through the portal of the painting, and becomes something else. It was an exciting idea to take a painting that exists, but remix it on a car, in a way that means taking some of the paint off and putting it on surfaces and other areas by cutting out elements and reflecting them in different ways .

Your way of working is quite fluid, as you often allow the process, an element of chance, to enter. Can you describe the creative process?

I assimilated it into the computer by making a high-resolution image of the painting, having the 3D model absorb the painting from where certain decisions were made and from which we reworked it. There was an aspect of serendipity and luck involved in the beginning, and then we took it forward.

What is your relationship with cars and motoring in general?

My family is really into cars and I've loved cars since I was a kid, but I wasn't into motor racing. My nephews encouraged me to undertake this project. We were in the midst of the pandemic when Thomas (Thomas Girst, Head of Global Cultural Engagement at BMW) contacted me and it felt like taking an escape route to a different part of the imagination.

How do you feel about motoring now, following the project?

There is something investigative and playful about motor racing. It is a form of sport, a form of imagination, a form of creativity. It is an important place in the imagination. I was fascinated to play in that place.

The marks you make on your work feel lively. How did this help you think about approaching a work of art three-dimensionally and the racing car in motion?

I went to see the M Hybrid V8 race at Daytona, and that experience was overwhelming. What I found interesting is how the designers of the car also design the wrap and how the car appears with the M logo. So when the car is still, the logo is completely broken into red, black, white and blue, and , however, when the car moves quickly around a track, the emblem comes to life.

I wanted to break it down and kind of do the opposite, so when the car is moving it's a total blur, but when it's stopped you see the digitization and the animation of the marks and the glitches and the vibration that contribute to the manufacture of the car. to show that the car has had an experience. When you're standing still you can see the painting, but when it's moving it's pure motion blur where you can see some of the marks in motion.

You talk about the experience of painting and visual media as critical to your work. How does this apply to the Art Car?

I'm interested in how we experience paintings and visual media, and how they evolve before us and have been part of our cultural language for a long time. This work comes out of my practice but it is doing something else. It's rethinking. It's the first time I've redone a painting in this way. I don't think of it as a rolling sculpture, or a work of art, but a car that will do a 24-hour race.

Your work relates to other works of art and is in constant conversation with music, media and politics. What references helped inform the Art Car?

The Art Car was about playing with the imagination in a way that freezes it the way I conceptually make a painting. I chose the grid that already existed as it had more references to what I was interested in citing: Frank Stella's grid (on his 1976 BMW Art Car) and citing Jenny Holzer's more conceptual approach (on the BMW Art Car of 1999) by having the car be affected and pass through the portal of the painting. The car will continue to be marked by its experience in the race, in the racer's shoes and on the road. The car will be finished once the race is over.

What do you want racing drivers to feel when they hear your car accelerating in the rearview mirror?

I hope we go far ahead and win, and the other cars will only see it from behind.

BMW Art Car #20 will compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race on June 15, 2024.

look Personal structures dynamic group exhibition in Venice, read about other outstanding art exhibitions hereand see other articles and interviews about arts and ideas here.



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