Inside Look at the BMW Art Car Collection

The man behind BMW’s Art Car Collection

Article | Autos | Bradley Horn | December 14, 2011

Dr. Thomas Girst give us an exclusive, insider’s look at the famed car collection and why it matters to the art world.

I finally catch up with Dr. Thomas Girst on his mobile. After a week of attempts to connect with the man, it seems my timing is finally right. The German heads up all of BMW’s commitments to the arts—music, architecture, design, etc.—so he’s understandably busy, but says he’s between the office and an evening out in Munich. Perfect timing, then.

Though it’s early afternoon here in Toronto, twilight’s already set in the Bavarian capital. For some reason, I picture him strolling across Max-Joseph-Platz in Munich, impeccably dressed, towards the city’s famed opera house while we chat. I’ve phoned, Girst, 40, for some insight into the part of his job that makes me, most other car enthusiasts and art aficionados alike envious: curating the BMW Art Car Collection.

The idea to speak with BMW’s “Head of Cultural Engagement,” came weeks earlier. As part of the posh preview night for the annual Art Toronto event, the automaker shipped the one-of-a-kind 1979 M1 racing car hand-painted by none other than Andy Warhol. The famed pop artist’s work has sold for as much as $70 million at auction and yet this car—shown in Canada for the first time—was permitted to compete in the grueling 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, covering some 4,000 kilometres and averaging 160 km/h.

So have many of the other 16 BMWs that have been commissioned to the world’s top artists from across nine countries and all five continents over the last 36 years—including Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein and more recently, Olafur Eliasson and Jeff Koons.

The Art Car Collection—usually kept “close to heart,” at BMW’s museum in Munich and selectively loaned out globally—are surely valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but Girst says, “Price alone should not be an indicator of an art work’s significance.”

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