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Exclusive: John Baldessari on designing the newest BMW art car

BMW introduced art car number 19 at Miami Art Basel on Wednesday night, an M6 GT3 by legendary Los Angeles-based artist John Baldessari. The BMW art cars are priceless works of automotive art. Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, and Jeff Koons have made cars for the collection.

It’s an apt time for the sly, reflective work of Baldessari, who has long explored the object as an idea. His most iconic works are tinged with dry humor. In one image, he shows the face of a hippopotamus submerged in water and the text, “Tom’s hands grip the steering wheel as he approaches a green light.” His most famous work might be an assignment he gave his art students in 1971 to write “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art” on the walls. Baldessari, a conceptual artist by nature, brings this approach to the art car, which includes his familiar use of dots and primary colors. At age 85, Baldessari, who is tall and lean and wears good sneakers, is the essence of cool. His use of text on the side body of the car says it all: fast.

Have you ever customized a car before?

It’s my first time.

Have you had a car you worked on that wasn’t a work of art?

I’ve driven BMWs all my life. In Southern California the weather’s very good. Kids modify their cars and put racing stripes on them. They have the auto museum where you can see things like the Batmobile.

What makes a custom car look good?

Oh boy, that’s all about how you define cool. That’s like what’s good jazz or bad jazz — you know when you hear it.

What cars have made an imprint on you?

In San Diego, cars are customized where they reassess the lights and put special hubcaps on it. They would get a convertible and make a very low top. It was called a Carson top. Then you would drive around and park. There’s a phenomenon there called the drive in, and then you just drive around and look cool.

Do you think cars make people look cool?

Well I hope these glasses make me look cool. There’s a guy here that put a Beetle on display in the LA County Museum and I thought that was a great gesture.

What was it like to design this car?

It was a challenge. I’ve never designed anything three-dimensional. Working on it from all different directions, I was happy with how it came out.

What does fast mean to you? Is it about speed or future?

It can mean all of those things, can’t it? In that sense I thought about it being very fast. Having a car going down the street that says fast is just a no-brainer.

Not a grandma car.

A grandma car is bad.

What do you imagine it will look like on the race track?

I hope it looks good. I put this red dot on top because I had this idea that there would be a helicopter shot going down so it can be identified.

What does designing a car mean to someone from the California community?

Designing a car is kind of like a feather in the cap. Cool-looking cars are cool.

But what about the future? The traffic in Los Angeles is a problem.

Especially on a clogged freeway. But when you think about cars it’s crucial for LA.

You have an electric car?

I gave it to my son. He loves it.

What was your first car?

It was probably a ‘32 Ford. Guys made what they call hot rods. I think hot rods are pretty crucial and basic to LA.

Would you like to design another car?

Yeah. Like something you’d see in the Rose Parade. That gives you an idea right?

Photography by Angel Valentin.


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