A.R. Penck

1991 BMW Z1

There is a total of 8,000 BMW Z1s all over the world, but only one like this. German artist A.R. Penck made sure of that by transforming this particular vehicle into a unique work of art. This bright red Art Car has been adorned with various symbols and images including the artist’s own legendary stick figures.

Penck’s car was also inspired by the work of artists such as Picasso and Rembrandt, as well as by early cave painting and a fascination with mathematics and physics. “Art on art, art on technology; that grabbed my attention – particularly the idea of art on a 3D element,” stated Penck commenting on his high-tech masterpiece.


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A.R. Penck | Germany

A.R. Penck was born Ralf Winkler in Dresden in 1939. It was here that paintings by this autodidactic artist were exhibited for the first time in 1956. In the following period Penck was intensely concerned with the works of Picasso, Rembrandt and prehistoric cave paintings.

The influence of the latter led to the first appearance of his now famous “stick men” in 1960. His interest in mathematics, cybernetics and theoretical physics extended his visual language into “world pictures.”

In 1966 Penck was refused membership in the Visual Arts Association in the former German Democratic Republic. This was part of a development which led to his expatriation from the GDR in 1980. He settled in the Federal Republic of Germany, where his works had already been exhibited since 1969 and where he had first achieved international recognition.

From that time onwards, Penck’s works could be seen in over 100 individual exhibitions in Western Europe, Japan and North America. His work appeared in the documenta 5, 6 and 7 exhibitions in Kassel, and he was also one of the most important artists representing the Federal Republic of Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1984. Major retrospectives of his work were shown in Berne in 1975, Cologne in 1981 and Berlin in 1988.

1991 BMW Z1

  • 6-cylinder inline engine
  • Overhead camshaft
  • Displacement: 2,494 cc
  • Power output: 170 bhp
  • Top speed: 225 km/h

A.R. Penck and the BMW Art Car

“I am also interested in exploring technical design,” commented Penck when considering the design of the Z1. In the artistic design for his BMW Art Car, the painter was inspired by a product which in his opinion was a mark of the creativity of those engineers and designers who were able to evolve particular freedom of imaginative expression in the development of this automobile. In this respect, this Z1 simultaneously lives up to the name BMW Art Car in several senses.

“I am interested in how art relates to art, how art relates to technology – and, above all, how art relates to a solid object.”

— A.R. Penck

Penck’s works are not without challenges to the observer. In order to understand his universe and his sign language, it is necessary to delve into the overall composition of characters and numbers: the apparently straightforward symbols are evolved by a long process of abstraction and are, in fact, ciphers to be decoded.