Julie Mehretu Imagines a BMW Blasting Through Her Paintings

The Ethiopian-born painter translates her frenetic abstractions onto a BMW M Hybrid V8 to mark the automaker’s 20th Art Car.

When Julie Mehretu was commissioned to design the 20th BMW Art Car, one of her first courses of action involved seeing the vehicle—the BMW M Hybrid V8—in motion at a race in Daytona. The Ethiopian-born painter quickly realized that automotive design shares quite a few commonalities with her own practice, which explores themes like capitalism, war, diaspora, climate change, and revolution through the lenses of architecture and movement, often all at once. “Designers, engineers, aerodynamicists, and so many other creative minds are working on taking this vehicle to the extreme,” Mehretu says. Her idea was simple: imagine the BMW blasting through one of her paintings, which acts as a portal and transforms the car into something else entirely.

“The idea was to make a remix, a mash-up of the painting,” Mehretu says. “I kept seeing that painting kind of dripping into the car.” The work in question, called Everywhen and inspired by a photograph of the Capitol insurrection in 2021, was fresh on Mehretu’s mind, owing partially to its inclusion in a current retrospective at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi. To translate the canvas’s swirling color gradations onto the car, she superimposed digitally altered photographs of it with layers of dot grids, neon-colored veils, and the black markings typical of her work. She utilized 3D mapping to imbue motifs of digitization, glitches, and vibration across the car’s contours. The markings are clearly visible when the car is still but seamlessly blur in motion.

“The whole BMW Art Car Project is about invention, about imagination, about pushing limits of what can be possible,” Mehretu said in a statement. “I don’t think of this car as something you would exhibit. I am thinking of it as something that will race in Le Mans. It’s a performative painting. The BMW Art Car is only completed once the race is over.”

BMW has been teasing the next iteration of its closely watched Art Car series for a while. At Frieze Los Angeles, the German automaker programmed the surface of a BMW i5 with color-changing panels that recreated visuals from its 12th Art Car, designed by South African artist Esther Mahlangu. It coincided with a BMW-backed retrospective of Mahlangu’s five-decade career at Iziko Museums of South Africa. In a similar vein, the collaboration between BMW and Julie Mehretu includes a joint commitment to a series of media workshops for filmmakers, which will tour Africa starting next year and culminate in a major show at the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town. Until then, we recommend catching Mehretu’s car competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France on June 15.

All images courtesy of BMW. 

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