Auto and art aficionados, alongside members of the press, gathered Wednesday evening at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York for the announcement of Julie Mehretu as BMW’s next Art Car artist. The Ethiopian-American abstract artist has been tapped to create the 20th BMW Art Car for the luxury car brand.
She joins a legendary roster of artists, such as Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Jenny Holzer and Jeff Koons, who designed Art Cars for BMW; a tradition since 1975.
“Art is culturally transformative,” Mehretu told Business Traveler. “It has been from the beginning of its making. It’s the most exhilarating thing anyone can do.”
Mehretu’s canvas, the BMW M Hybrid V8 model, was unveiled on the ground floor of the museum. The car will go on to race at the 2024 Le Mans in France.
The artist was selected by an international jury of museum directors and curators and will have complete creative freedom in her design. “We were looking for an artist whose work spoke to a contemporary audience and who understood scale, visibility and whose work would have a global reach,” said Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
On stage, Mehretu discussed how Jenny Holzer’s 1999 Art Car inspired her, and how Holzer set the Art Car bar high for female artists.
“We have incredible drivers now. We have women participating in the joy and thrill of what can happen with speed. Holzer dealt with the immense contradiction in this space,” said Mehretu.
The livery of Holzer’s 1999 Art Car famously displayed the words, “Protect Me From What I Want.”
“I think there’s something brilliant in this statement,” Mehretu added, “about desire, capitalism and thrill.”
Also in attendance at the event was artist Jeff Koons, who designed the 17th BMW Art Car. “I always wanted to be part of this group with Warhol, Rauschenberg, Jenny Holzer, and the BMW artists; to have a dialogue about speed, mechanics and engineering. It’s a rewarding experience,” Koons told Business Traveler.
Mehretu shared with attendees that she’s playing with design themes centered around the Hybrid V8’s speed and its blurring effect. “I was blown away by how quickly the car passes you by. What that blur means in our larger social reality, and our current cognitive confusion, feels aligned with what happens when the car goes by. It’s a thought I’m having right now.”
BMW M GmbH’s new competition car in endurance racing features a hybrid drive system with around 640 hp, whose 4.0-liter V8 engine is supported by an electric motor (max speed: up to 345 kph/215 mph, depending on track layout). This makes the prototype race car, which weighs just 1,030 kilograms, the poster child for typical M performance and the fascination with electrified drives.
But the 20th Art Car won’t just grace racetracks and museums. Mehretu and Mehret Mandefro, Emmy-nominated producer, writer and co-founder of the Realness Institute, will host a series of gatherings in eight African cities for artists to convene, meet and exchange ideas. The results of these workshops will be presented with the 20th Art Car at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town in 2025.