Celebrated New York artist Julie Mehretu presents BMW’s 20th art car

Julie Mehretu has transformed the BMW M Hybrid V8 racing car into an exciting piece of performance art, continuing the BMW Art Car tradition of continuing and competing in the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2024. The celebrated contemporary artist was a unanimous election. 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 he subsequently raced at Le Mans. Since then, the brush of some of the most prominent names in the history of art has caressed 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 colors and shapes from his monumental painting. every time (2021 – 2023), which is currently on display at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice as part of the artist’s major retrospective and will find its home in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

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

every time blurs a photograph taken in Washington on January 6, 2021 and the attack on the Capitol, but Mehretu wanted the Art Car project to find its own meaning through the process of creation, the race and the marks of time. The project was proposed in the early weeks of the pandemic, when the world was in lockdown, and Mehretu saw this 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 years old and now lives and works in New York City and Berlin. In her practice, she engages the viewer in a dynamic visual articulation of contemporary experience, a description of social behavior and the psychogeography of space through the exploration of palimpsests of history, from geological time to a modern phenomenology of the social. .

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

I caught up with Mehretu before 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 would display; I’m thinking of it as something that will race at Le Mans. It is a performative painting. The BMW Art Car will not be finished until the race is over.

What does the BMW Art Car project mean to you?

What could be more radically crazy than a car speeding off the ground? The whole project is about invention, imagination, pushing the limits of what can be possible.

What was the experience of working on this project like?

The exciting thing was that it is completely outside of my normal creative process: the overlap is in the aspect of design, mobility, invention and imagining other possibilities. It has been interesting to learn about this and talk with the other designers, engineers, 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 come true.

What are the physical challenges of moving a work of art, a painting, to a car?

One thing I didn’t want to do is paint a car. The question for me is how is this treated so that it doesn’t simply become a decorative project. It was good to talk to race car designers and see how various lines and forces act to keep this vehicle on the ground and accelerating quickly on the ground. Also, understand how they looked when designing the car to make it look faster.

At what point did you come up with this idea of ​​the car running 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 paint, is transported through the portal of the painting, and becomes something else. It was an exciting idea to take a paint that exists but remix it on a car, in a way that means separating some of the paint and transmitting it to surfaces and into other areas, cutting elements and reflecting them in different ways.

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

I assimilated this into the computer by taking a high resolution image of the painting, having the 3D model absorb the painting from which certain decisions were made and from which we reworked it. At first there was an aspect of serendipity and luck, and then we moved it forward.

What is your relationship with cars and motorsports in general?

My family really likes cars and I have loved cars since I was a child, but I didn’t like motor racing. My nephews encouraged me to undertake this project. We were in the middle of the pandemic when Thomas (Thomas Girst, director of global cultural engagement at BMW) contacted me and it was like taking an escape route to a different part of the imagination.

How do you feel about motorsport now, after the project?

There is some research and fun in motorsport. 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 by playing in that place.

The marks you make in your work feel animated. 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 the experience was overwhelming. What I found interesting is how the designers of the car also design the lettering and the way the car appears with the M logo. Then, when the car is still, the logo is completely destroyed in red, black, white and blue, and yet, when the car moves fast on a track, the emblem comes to life.

I wanted to break this down and do the opposite, so that when the car is moving it is completely blurred, but when it stops you see the digitization and animation of the marks, glitches and vibrations that contribute to the creation of the car. to show that the car has had an experience. When it’s still you can see the painting, but when it’s moving it’s a pure motion blur where you can see some of the marks moving.

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

I’m interested in how we experience paintings and visual media, and how they evolve in front of us and have been part of our cultural language for a long time. This work emerges from my practice but is doing something more. It is rethinking. It is the first time he has remixed a painting in this way. I don’t consider it just a rolling sculpture or a piece of art, but a car that will do a 24-hour race.

Your work interacts with 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 imaginary in a way that freezes it the way I conceptually make a painting. I chose the painting that already existed because it had the most references to what I was interested in citing: Frank Stella’s grille (on his 1976 BMW Art Car) and citing Jenny Holzer’s more conceptual approach (on the BMW Art Car of 1999) having the car will be affected and will go through the portal of the painting. The car will continue to be marked by its experience in the race, by the driver’s shoes and by the road. The car will be finished once the race is over.

What would you like racing drivers to feel when they feel their car speeding up in the rearview mirror?

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

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

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