In the late 2000s, when artist Jeff Koons was asked to design a BMW Art Car, he considered three concepts. “I did plan A, plan B and plan C,” Mr Koons said.
Since its inception in 1975, the Art Car program has commissioned top-notch artists – including Andy Warhol, Jenny Holzer, Robert Rauschenberg and Cao Fei – to create one-of-a-kind iterations of a BMW vehicle, museum-quality pieces that are on display or run. The racing car Mr Koons unveiled in 2010 featured a windswept riot of brightly colored streaks. This design, he said, was plan B.
Plan C did not hold Mr. Koons’ interest, so he rejected it. But Plan A stuck with him. “I wanted to make a car that, when it came by, would go pop-pop-pop,” he said.
Now, a dozen years later, he has brought that vision to life with Jeff Koons’ 8, a limited edition of 99 purpose-built and equipped versions of BMW’s four-door 8-Series Gran Coupé sports sedan. This car was unveiled, virtually, on Wednesday as part of the Frieze Los Angeles art fair, of which BMW is an official partner. In the United States, each example will cost $350,000.
As one of the world’s best-known living artists, Mr. Koons lends cachet to the offering. “It’s good marketing for the business,” said Linda Yablonsky, an art critic and author of an upcoming biography of Mr. Koons. “But Jeff himself is truly an art evangelist. He wants to see art in everyone’s life. It doesn’t have to be his, but he wants everyone to connect with the art in some way because he thinks it will do for them what it does for him: improve their life.
Discussions between BMW and Mr. Koons about producing a limited-edition vehicle for sale to the public go back more than a decade. But we did not know what form this collaboration could take.
“I thought it would be one of those dog-colored balloon cars – bright yellow, bright red, bright blue,” said Thomas Girst, BMW’s head of cultural engagement, referring to the artist’s glowing sculptures. , executed in brilliant colors. polished stainless steel.
Mr. Koons had another idea in mind. “I started out working with a sort of rectangular design that became this kind of breath of air that I incorporated, this emphasis on power. And I use other visual ways to communicate the energy and speed, and that excitement of movement,” he said.
Yet the bold linear graphics, bright colors, animated stars, and explosions aren’t just superficial peacocks. “When I walk past and someone says, ‘Hey, look at this’, it’s not just about feathers spilling out,” Mr Koons said. “They see something very visceral, and it’s visual.”
The design conveys a sense of vibrant emotionality, a fascination rooted in fun and joy. This sensibility carries over to the interior, with its harlequin arrangement of contrasting colors and textures, all chosen by Mr. Koons.
Finishing takes a lot of work. Painting each car requires an 11-step process, including hand painting. According to BMW, this is the most complex paint job ever done on one of its production road cars, taking 300 hours to complete for each vehicle. (During one of Mr. Koons’ supervisory visits to the factory, according to Mr. Girst, workers in the paint shop asked him to sign their atomizer. “And he did,” said said Mr. Girst.)
Mr. Koons experimented with similar concepts, on a very different vehicle. “It’s a bit like the paint job he gave to the Guilty, a yacht he designed for Greek collector Dakis Joannou,” Ms Yablonsky said. “Jeff based it on World War I dazzling ship camouflage and combined it with a sort of homage to Roy Lichtenstein, one of his artistic heroes,” she continued.
“So the bright colors of this car and the explosive, cartoonish pop graphics are very much in keeping with its artistry,” she said. “And certainly, like Jeff himself, it’s very optimistic.” She added: “I’d be curious to see what it looks like in motion.”
Soon, Ms. Yablonsky and other New Yorkers will see that wish granted. At the end of March, Mr. Koons is due to drive a Jeff Koons 8 through Manhattan, dropping the car off at Rockefeller Center, where it will be on display from March 31 through April 4. At the end of the exhibition, this car will be auctioned off by Christie’s, with proceeds going to the International Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a charity which Mr Koons has frequently supported.
In order to present the car to collectors around the world, further premieres are planned this spring and summer (without Mr. Koons) in the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Belgium, China, France and England.
“There is already a lot of demand in the market, so we are confident that this car will sell out very quickly,” Mr. Girst said.
Mr. Koons will also receive his own 8 from Jeff Koons. He said he looked forward to driving the car “to New York, and from New York to Pennsylvania”, where he maintains a weekend home – his grandfather’s farm.
This will be a significant change from his usual conduct. Because Mr. Koons has eight children and often travels with them, their friends, his wife and a nanny, he usually drives a 13-passenger Mercedes van.
“My kids say, ‘Dad, you should get yourself a sports car,'” he said. “But I love being with my family. I enjoy being with them. As the 8 Series Gran Coupé has four seats, it will lend itself to such conviviality. “So I ended up with the car sport that I see myself driving,” he said.
Does this vehicle rise to the level of art? “It’s a car imagined by an artist,” Ms. Yablonsky said. “But it’s still a car. A functional object. Most works of art only function as art.
BMW and Mr. Koons remain open to future cooperation. “I think the story with Jeff is definitely on the way,” Mr. Girst said. “The future is certainly electric, so why not, without making any promises, why not explore that further? There are certainly new challenges with electric car design and new ways for artists to help meet these challenges.