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The luxury automobile maker BMW revealed the 20th edition of its BMW Art Car, created in collaboration with the artist Julie Mehretu. Joining the list of past artist collaborators like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Jenny Holzer, and John Baldessari, Mehretu was unanimously chosen by jury in the making of an artistic take on the brand’s new competition car, the BMW M Hybrid V8 model.
Originating in 1975 with the French racing driver Hervé Poulain and BMW’s Head of Motorsport, Jochen Neerpasch, who first introduced the concept with the artist Alexander Calder, the cross-disciplinary collaboration invites an artist to work with BMW’s engineers and designers, adding their own artistic twist on the latest racing model. Aligning with the automotive brand’s commitment to supporting global culture, once the car is complete, it is driven in competition during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, followed by a tour of international exhibitions.
“I’ve loved cars for most of my life, as toys, as objects, as possibilities. It is from that space that I’m really excited to be working on the next BMW Art Car more than anything,” said Mehretu. “The thrill of the speed, the 24 Hour race of Le Mans, and what is possible to invent in hybrid and fully electric vehicles as future modes of play and pushing ahead into new terrains of transportation and motorsports.”
With nearly 50 years of innovation comprising the history of the Art Car, Mehretu’s M Hybrid V8 model is the first M Motorsport prototype since the V12 LMR in 1999. Its 4-liter V8 engine is powered by an electric motor and accompanies an ultra-light, aerodynamic racing body weighing less than 2,300 pounds—a concept that aligns beautifully with the Ethiopian-born artist’s powerful artistic oeuvre.
Working closely with BMW specialists, Mehretu has imagined a car that harnesses the same dynamic energy of her paintings, which consider sociopolitical concepts through markings suggesting an intense or hurried movement. The automobile features a low body with a compact passenger cab just large enough for the driver and appears slightly futuristic, featuring details like a spoiler, LED detailing that gives the car a mystical glow, and a textural finish with a small checkerboard effect.
“I think Julie is a wonderful artist who has been able to bring the three-dimensionality of our reality into the two-dimensionality of paintings and flat surfaces,” said juror Cecilia Alemani, Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Director and Chief Curator, High Line Art. “She is someone that has been looking at our cities, the speed of our culture, vectors, and velocity and these are all themes that resonate with the BMW Art Car. Her project for the BMW Art Car will be compelling and bring together all these aspects into this wonderful platform.”
Beyond the design itself, Mehretu’s Art Car collaboration stretches further. In light of the limited spaces for artists to convene and collaborate on the African continent, Mehretu and Mehret Mandefro (the Emmy-nominated producer, writer, and co-founder of Realness Institute) have announced a series of workshops in eight cities throughout Africa that will focus on the power of the collective. Aiming to help participants claim and shape their identity by their own standards in a concept based on Denniston Hill’s Exodus Media Workshop (concerned with image-making and representation in the media), the workings and products of the series will be displayed in 2025 at Cape Town’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa alongside Mehretu’s BMW Art Car.