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Paris Photo Los Angeles: Andy Warhol’s BMW Art Car

By Katy Donoghue

May 1, 2013

Paris Photo inaugurated its Los Angeles edition last week, taking place from April 26 – 28 at Paramount Pictures Studios. It was one of the most enjoyable fairs we’ve been to in a long time, taking place over three sound stages and on the (totally novel for us non-movie makers) New York back lot . The setting, the sun, and the fact that there were just 50-odd booths featuring one medium – photography – made for a lovely way to see art.

Paris Photo Los Angeles also offered the rare opportunity to see Andy Warhol’s BMW Art Car in the (albeit metal) flesh, as part of BMW Group’s partnership with the fair. Paris Photo director Julien Frydman told Dr. Thomas Girst, Head of Cultural Engagement at BMW, that the Andy Warhol Art Car had to be in Los Angeles.

“Andy Warhol’s career as a pop artist, started at the Ferus Gallery here in Los Angeles,” Girst told us at the preview. “He has a right to be here. There are photographs of him photographing the entrance to Paramount Pictures,” he added.

The Art Car series started in 1975 with Alexander Calder. Behind the initiative was Herve Poulain, the French racecar drive who was also quite passionate about contemporary art. Girst told us, “Poulain would ask his friends if they would paint his car that he would then race for BMW.” Most people thought the Calder Art Car was a one-off, but it soon became the “darling of the public” as Girst described it.

Warhol painted the BMW M1 in 1979. It was a colorful interaction. He first tried to paint the entire car, including the windows. But since the end goal was to race it, that didn’t fly. His second design was camouflage. Which didn’t go over much better. “You know, a German car company, camouflage, military, in 1979 France, it doesn’t work. It wouldn’t work today,” said Girst.

Finally Warhol told BMW to buy him his plane ticket to Munich and he would just paint it right there. He arrived and immediately got to work. It took him just 23 minutes, so fast the television crews hadn’t even arrived yet. “We couldn’t really photograph anything. There are photographs but he’s posing, the car was basically almost done,” said Girst.

The result was a multicolored design, done with a paintbrush and signed by Warhol – using his finger – in the back. The artist’s intention was to create a blurring effect when the car raced.

And it still drives. The last time it went around the track was in 2009 at a race celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the M1. Behind the wheel was artist Frank Stella, a fan of racing and later Art Car collaborator, who called it the best work by Warhol.

We found Polaroids by Warhol of Dolly Parton and Debbie Harry at Danziger Gallery’s booth at the sound stage next door. Photography has such a rich history tied to the West and California, and car culture is a way of life in Los Angeles. In the setting of Paris Photo Los Angeles, we couldn’t think of a better fit.

Andy WarholBMWBMW Art CarBMW GroupBMW M1Danziger GalleryDr. Thomas GirstFerus GalleryFrank StellaJulien FrydmanLos AngelesParis PhotoParis Photo Los Angeles


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