Alexander Calder, the artist behind the very first BMW Art Car, always wanted his own version of the M49 inline-six-powered 3.0 CSL race car that served as his canvas. A so-called artist’s proof if you will: the original original. Calder died in November of 1976, but the same year, what would become BMW’s tradition of Art Cars had already taken hold, and the second edition, a 3.0 CSL wearing the artistic renderings of Frank Stella, had been commissioned and created.
Now, for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of BMW’s cultural engagement, the automaker has created an identical, “artist’s proof” of the very first art car based on an original BMW 3.0 CSL. The artist’s proof is described as being virtually identical to the original art car, and bears the same 227592/AP chassis number. It will debut as part of the Alexander Calder: Minimal / Maximal exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie museum in Berlin on August 22, and is to be displayed at The Bridge in Bridgehampton, New York during the weekend of September 18–19.
“I first encountered the BMW Art Car as a kid at the opening of my grandfather’s far-ranging retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1976. I asked him about the roar of its M49 engine, and he smiled and told me he wanted to make one for himself. He died just a few weeks later,” explained Alexander S. C. Rower, grandson of the artist and president of the Calder Foundation. “Ever since, I have dreamed of realizing his wish to bring the car to life to experience its full glory in motion. I am thrilled that that day has finally come, and that the car will be activated for the opening of the Neue Nationalgalerie’s ‘Minimal / Maximal’ exhibition, which highlights the key element of social activation so fundamental to Calder’s work.”
The story of Calder’s involvement, and how the first BMW Art Car came to be can be traced back not to the automotive realm, but to that of aerospace. In 1974 Hervé Poulain, a French auctioneer and racing driver, approached Calder at his Saché, France studio to propose bringing the artist’s recent collaboration with Braniff International Airways back to earth in the form of a car. Looking to capitalize on success similar to what had been achieved by Braniff using one of its DC-8 jetliners as a veritable canvas, BMW and Poulain commissioned Calder to paint a design on a 3.0 CSL race car to be run at that the 1975 24 Hours of Le Mans. The subsequent results have become history in one of its most appreciable forms, and BMW’s Art Car program continues on today, with a total of twenty cars created since its inception.
“It was a thrilling moment as a young driver to meet the great American artist Alexander Calder at his home in Saché,” recalls Poulain. “Racing what became the first in a storied tradition of prestigious Art Cars is a memory I will never forget. I am delighted that more people will now get to experience Calder’s vision, thanks to this new Artist’s Proof.”
The Alexander Calder BMW 3.0 CSL Art Car Artist’s Proof is the result of a collaboration between BMW Classic and the Calder Foundation, with consultation on the part of Hervé Poulain and Jochen Neerpasch, the latter of whom founded BMW Motorsport in the 1970s and played a key role in the inception of the first Art Car. Walter Maurer, who did the technical painting of the original Calder Art Car in 1975, also assisted in the painting of the artist’s proof in 2021.
BMW’s array of Art Cars can currently be appreciated from the palm of your hand through the Acute Art app, which uses augmented reality to bring them to life in front of you. The 3D models are true to form and incredibly detailed, and can examined in such a way a museum visit to the see the real things in Munich at the BMW Welt would never allow for.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]