In the future, everyone will race at Le Mans for 15 minutes
Autoweek | Blake Z. Rong | Nicholas Bailey | May 16, 2013
Sometimes the only way to high art is through deep pockets.
Perhaps this occurred to Andy Warhol when BMW asked him to paint its M1 Group 4 race car in 1977. Warhol, already a superstar, was constantly fascinated with the melding of the commercial and the artistic. BMW was happily molding America as its largest export market.
In the past 40 years, there have been just 17 BMW Art Cars, on average one every three years. Out of all of its Art Cars, this M1 — already nearly priceless as an automobile, let alone one breathed upon by the most recognizable name in modern art — is BMW’s most expensive and valuable. Recently, it was shown for just two days at Paris Photo LA at Paramount Studios, the prestigious art festival’s first foray outside France.
It was there that we spoke with Thomas Girst, whose official title is “Head of Cultural Engagement” for BMW Group. He earned a PhD in Art History from Hamburg University and studied at NYU, where he focused on the conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp. At BMW, he acts as the curator of its collection of Art Cars. Girst readily admitted that the reason BMW’s cultural department exists — the reason he is able to stay employed — is purely to further the aims of BMW:
“It would be negligent to say that we’re doing this for philanthropic or altruistic reasons, it’s really about the image, the reputation, the visibility of the brand, as well as, really, being a good corporate citizen.
“Because the way companies are being looked at from the outside now doesn’t really have to do with the core business, but what do they give back to society? So, culture is one of these things.”
There’s an air of validity in such honesty. Girst never was a car guy, but he slowly became one: After watching the engineers and designers in Munich collaborate on BMWs, he came to understand why artists in the early 1900s fell in love with the automobile. A great, tremendous statue, “our sculpture of the 20th century,” according to the Futurist Manifesto of 1909, a statement extolling a new artistic philosophy …
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