What Are Art Cars?

Latest Lexus creation displayed at Design Miami shows that cars can make our lives better in much beyond than transportation

Architect Germane Barnes has created a wireframe structure of the Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept for the Miami art exhibition. According to Dezeen on art cars, he wanted to represent the maker’s electrification process in a way that minimized emissions. Barnes’s students at the University of Miami have co-credit for the project.

Even though we talk about design for cars all the time, the truth is that art has also been important to it. Sometimes it has objective representations, like on a new logotype. However, there are also several other cases where it takes an abstract, almost transcendental guise. This article intends to give you a glimpse of such a beautiful interpretation of cars.

Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356 Cabriolet “History of the Universe” art car
Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356 Cabriolet “History of the Universe” art car (Source: WheelsAge)

What is an art car?

In short, a car whose owner changed its appearance in a way to suit their own aesthetic, desires, and personality. As mentioned earlier, this situation poses a notable contrast because we frequently associate cars to design; everything in them is planned and executed to serve commercial purposes, even its visual identity and style-related parts.

Cars have become a big part of our lives; we interact with them every day and they influence many decisions of ours regardless of whether we actually own one. Art is an invaluable form of self-expression; it was a matter of time for people to start applying it to cars. The Art Car Museum is a good reference to learn details on the matter.

BMW 3.0 CSL Art Car by Alexander Calder
BMW 3.0 CSL Art Car by Alexander Calder (Source: WheelsAge)

Who makes art cars?

Anyone, just like with all other types of art. There have been art cars made by renowned artists of other types; people who became renowned artists because of art cars; and countless untrained people who have made their own art cars. The press often refers to people who engage in this type of creation as car artists or, more informally, cartists.

As you can imagine, people have used a wide number of themes to make their art cars. Some represent the artist’s culture; others send a message regarding the current social context; and others simply materialize their author’s whim. Filmmaker Harrod Blank often gets credit for bringing art cars to the popular culture through his documentaries.

BMW Z1 Art Car by A. R. Penck
BMW Z1 Art Car by A. R. Penck (Source: WheelsAge)

BMW Art Car Project

There is a particularly interesting case of art cars that involves the Bavarian automaker. In 1975, French racer Hervé Poulain commissioned an art car to artist Alexander Calder; it was the BMW 3.0 CSL with which Poulain competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans of that year. That action eventually led to a beautiful tradition.

Over the following years, many other artists have created BMW Art Cars; the 1979 M1 on this article’s top picture, for example, is a creation of Andy Warhol. Nowadays, this project has shifted from race purposes to simply bringing the company closer to the arts. Any new creations have to get the approval of a panel of judges to make part of the project.

1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlekin
1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlekin (Source: WheelsAge)

They generally pose no problem in that regard. The owner has to disclose the change of body color to the DMV for identification purposes but that is usually the extent of it. Other actions are only necessary for more complex changes, like adding new components and/or radically changing the appearance of the base car.

Unfortunately, art cars are highly difficult to maintain. Many artists like to use them on the streets, so it is mandatory to preserve sight lines and access to the engine; prepare the external components to withstand the effects of time and weather; and just accept the frequent occurrence of parts falling off, breaking down, or simply being stolen.

Porsche Taycan 4S Art Car by Richard Phillips
Porsche Taycan 4S Art Car by Richard Phillips (Source: WheelsAge)

How to Create an Art Car?

You are the one who is going to define that — and that is the beauty of it! Art is precisely about expressing yourself, so advice from others is only valid when it comes to practical matters. For example, if you want to drive the art car on the streets, it has to offer easy access to the engine and to keep complying with all the safety codes of your region.

Besides that and the issues previously mentioned here, it is important to keep in mind that anything you add increases the car’s weight and, in some cases, affects its aerodynamics. Both issues reduce its mileage, so fuel cost will likely become an issue. Especially if you plan to drive your art car everyday and/or to attend exhibitions in many cities.

Mercedes-Benz Project Geländewagen
Mercedes-Benz Project Geländewagen (Source: WheelsAge)

Art cars prove that even such rational and precise products can be enhanced by the sensitivity and the power of self-expression. Do you own an art car or know someone who does? Keep reading AutomoBible posts to learn more interesting facts about the relationship between art, cars and design!