Augmented Reality App Lets You Play With BMW’s Art Cars

BMW’s Art Car program has been in existence since 1975, when Le Mans driver and art lover Hervé Poulain and BMW Motorsport founder Jochen Neerpasch convinced Alexander Calder to create a design for Poulain’s 3.0 CSL race car. Nineteen artists have since created Art Car models, including luminaries such as Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons, John Baldessari, and Cao Fei.

For the first time, these vehicles are being digitized and collected in one place. And that place is, obviously, the internet. Users can use an augmented reality (AR) app, Acute Art, to place any of 10 cars wherever they point their smartphone camera. New cars will be added every two weeks until all 19 are available.

“Cao Fei, as the 18th BMW Art Car artist, led the way by creating an AR BMW Art Car, and Acute Art is just great,” says Thomas Girst, BMW’s global head of cultural engagement. “We had collaborated with them before for Lu Yang’s BMW Art Journey, and they had worked with many artists of the BMW Art Car series. This was the right time, free of charge, and available to all in an amazing app.”

Like a magic lamp for fans of Bavarian rolling sculpture, the app allows users to conjure Art Cars wherever they desire. “I had fun with them while testing the app and vacationing in France,” Girst said. “Koons on a beach near Marseille, Baldessari under the Eiffel Tower, Esther Mahlangu in front of Postman [Ferdinand] Cheval’s Palais Ideal. Cars nowadays oftentimes sacrifice freedom for security. The Art Cars open the door to pure joy—even if that door leads to the Calder car in your friend’s kitchen.”

esther mahlangu's bwm art car

Esther Mahlangu’s BWM Art Car project set on a beach via augmented reality.


Not to be outdone by Girst, we tested a Beta version of the app while vacationing in the mountains of Spain and enjoyed placing the Koons next to our Airbnb and the Baldessari in the home’s cavernous, stone-walled living room. The cars can be rotated and scaled to fit your space, but as of now, you can’t walk around them, get in them, or drive them.

Sadly for any of us who might want to improve upon the work of these blue-chip artists, the app does not currently allow for customization. “If those artists stand for one thing, it is about empowerment,” Girst says. “The spectator turns into the creator. At the same time, we should honor the artistic copyright, which all too often gets lost in the freebie world of social media. You can play with those artworks and then you can create your own instead of messing with theirs.”

australian artist michael jagamara nelson's bmw art car

Australian artist Michael Jagamara Nelson’s BMW Art Car.


Speaking of messing with art, when we first heard about this project, our initial thought was that the next Art Car is going to be a damn non-fungible token (NFT), a sort of digital trading card that isn’t tradable. “NFTs are for those who want to make money quick, and everyone jumped on the opportunity as new money from the young and super-wealthy tech world is flooding the art market,” Girst says. “No one ever knew how to tap into these riches before. Our core business is cars. If there ever were to be NFTs by BMW it would be our most iconic cars throughout the decades. The BMW Art Cars belong to the people and to the artists who so proudly created them.”

For now, there’s the app, and if Girst has his way perhaps BMW will roll out new features soon. “Look, this is a process. Think of this as a sophisticated version 1.0, but the sky’s the limit after we get this app off the ground,” he says. “The great thing about this was the enthusiasm of the participating artists, who were all thrilled to have their art reverberate outside the museum walls.”

In the meantime, feel free to download Acute Art and try experimenting with the app yourself.

“Good question. What took us so long?” says Girst. “Maybe it was our sense of perfection and high regard for the artists involved? Also, we just felt that the time had come.”

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Katherine E. Ackerman

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