Jeff Koons Previews His BMW Design

The new car will be the 17th in BMW’s fabled “Art Car” series.

Last month, we brought you news that BMW had tapped art star Jeff Koons to design its latest “Art Car.” Today, Koons dropped the veil on his upcoming design. This one is meant to be driven, too: The car, after an unveiling on June 1st at Paris’s Pompidou Center, will then be driven in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, from June 12 to 13. For BMW, those moves are calculated to highlight the history of the series. The first Art Car by sculptor Alexander Calder raced in Le Mans, in 1975. And Roy Lichtenstein signed his Art Car at the Pompidou Center in 1977.


At the press event, Koons stepped to the podium with his signature high-wattage smile and investment-banker suit, and explained that the design was inspired by the look of sonic booms, light explosions, and Christmas lights. “These cars have no outside purpose, other than winning,” said Koons. “They’re brutal,  and I wanted to capture that.” The interior of the car will be painted in what Koons described as the “lightest shade possible”–a very subtle silver.

For BMW, Koons’s flashy but not crazy paint job had to be an immense relief: The Art Car program, after 35 years and 16 cars–created by everyone from Andy Warhol to Alexander Calder to Roy Lichtenstein to Robert Rauschenberg–hit a strange turn with Olafur Eliasson’s design in 2007. With a body made of 530 gallons of ice and its attendant room-sized freezer, it was undriveable and raised the specter of carbon emissions (a point made ironic by the hydrogen fuel cell in the car’s machinery). Brilliant as it may have been, it didn’t exactly scream “BMW” or announce any particular pride in the brand

But Koons is another fish entirely, famous for being able to swim with supreme ease in the corporate world. His design exemplifies that, by being sexy but still fitting into BMW’s grand marketing plans.

Koons, ever the high-powered seller, actually approached BMW about the collaboration.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.