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Observations: The car's the star as the artists' top models go on show


Usually you take the lift to a level in a multi-storey car park and hope to see your own car.

A collection of BMW Art Cars (1975-2010) designed by famous artists will take over an NCP car park in east London, as part of an ICA show. Jenny Holzer has emblazoned the words “Protect me from what I want” made out of shiny fluorescent foil across the white car's bodywork, so it is visible at night. While Roy Lichtenstein's famous comic strip style is reflected in his car design, which includes the surroundings through which the car is being driven, as well as the lines on the road.

These 16 BMWs, which have been shipped to the UK for the first time ever from Germany, will be exhibited over six floors of the car park in Shoreditch. Visitors will view the cars on each level including Level 5's “Masters of Pop” – with cars by Lichtenstein, Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.

The BMW Art Car Collection first started when the American sculptor Alexander Calder designed a red, yellow and blue BMW racing car in 1975 for his friend, the French racing driver and auctioneer Hervé Poulain. “The car became such a darling during the Le Man 24-hour race that Poulain also asked Warhol, Lichenstein and Frank Stella to design his cars,” says Dr Thomas Girst, Head of Cultural Engagement at BMW, who looks after the Art Cars. The collection has grown to include its latest acquisition – Koons' 2010 brightly coloured stripy model.

Hockney paints the inside of a car on the outside, for his design in 1995 (bottom), showing parts of the engine as well as his dog Stanley on the bodywork, with images of lush Californian trees and sunshine. “None of the artists get paid but Hockney was given the same BMW model that he designed. He asked our engineers to devise a water irrigation system within his car so his beloved dogs would always have fresh water on long journeys,” recalls Girst.

Rauschenberg took the art car to a whole new level in 1986, by incorporating photographic transfers of Ingres paintings on to the bodywork, while the hub caps have been painted with images of ancient decorative plates. In 1979, Warhol's brushstrokes and fingerprints adorned the bodywork of his bright model (top), which is estimated to be worth about £20m.

Girst says: “To show them together in a car park, rather than a museum is exactly where they belong.”

Art Drive! BMW Art Car Collection 1975-2010, NCP Great Eastern Street Car Park, London EC2 (ica.org.uk) 21 July to 4 August