In 1975, the French racecar driver Hervé Poulain commissioned his friend Alexander Calder to paint the BMW 3.0 CSL he was set to drive that year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. Though Poulain didn’t finish, 35 years later the Bavarian automaker who supplied his car is still following his lead. Yesterday in New York they introduced Jeff Koons’s technicolor design for the 17th edition in their ever-intriguing Art Car series. For Koons, the performance of his #79 vehicle, which will be shown at the Centre Pompidou June 1—as Lichtenstein’s was in 1977—is just as important as the aesthetics. “This will be the first time since ’79, since the Warhol car,” that an art car has raced at Le Mans, hence the number, Koons told us after the press conference. “I’m thrilled by that and just wanted to take into account the pure aesthetics of physics and to try to create a car whose first function is to win the race. I hope it has a little intimidating effect to it, where it looks like a very fast car.”
It does. As for his decision to participate—or those of previous collaborators like Rauschenberg, Licthenstein, Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Olafur Eliasson, and Warhol (who crudely slapped paint on with broad brushstrokes)—Koons surmised, “it really has to do with the communal experience, and to have the inner dialogue go back and forth between different artists and share this interaction and vocabulary for what it means to actually give a graphic design to a racecar.” Adding, “I did a yacht for Dakis Joannou so that would be the closest thing I’ve done in terms of putting a surface on some object that has a function.”
Of all previous art cars, Warhol’s M1 placed the highest (sixth), but Koons says he “absolutely” wants his M3 GT2 to win the two-day race. To better insure that his bright design of super-saturated vectors achieves what he called “the aesthetic of winning” and “the explosives effects of energy” Koons took a ride in one of the track cars himself. He also modeled the refraction of light around the vehicle’s curves at his factory, used an ultra-light silver interior paint for extra speed, and for the exterior studied images of everything from celestial explosions to an illuminated Christmas tree pulling out of focus. “It really depicted movement very strongly,” says Koons, noting his test ride also inspired him to make his design “Very high contrast, with a certain sphereness to it and a certain aesthetic reality that was really kind of raw.” Should Andy Priaulx, the Brit driver who’ll be piloting the car at Le Mans, be standing in the winner’s circle come June 13, expect to see some gearheads at the artist’s next opening.