Julie Mehretu Will Paint BMW’s Next Art Car

Mehretu joins artists like Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, all of whom used the luxury automaker's cars as a canvas.

Julie Mehretu, an Ethiopian American artist known for her multilayered contemporary paintings, has long experimented with elements of movement and density in her large-scale works. But her next canvas, a BMW (BMWYY) M Hybrid V8, may be her most ambitious foray into those themes yet.

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Woman with short hair and sunglasses stands in front of race car
Julie Mehretu’s selection was announced yesterday (June 29) at the Guggenheim Museum. BMW/Julian Kroehl

Mehretu is the latest painter tapped to create BMW’s Art Car, a decades-long tradition in which artists design original exteriors for the luxury automotive company’s race cars. The 2oth installment of the initiative will see Mehretu’s car enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year.

What are BMW Art Cars?

The first BMW Art Car was created in 1975, when French motorsports driver Herve Poulain asked his friend and artist Alexander Calder to paint a BMW 3.0 CSL. Adorned in Calder’s palette of red, yellow and blue, the car was driven by Poulain at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and became a “crowd favorite,” according to BMW. Over the past 50 years, BMW has selected artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella and Jenny Holzer to paint race cars with complete creative freedom. The most recent BMW Art Car was designed by conceptual artist John Baldessari, who in 2016 covered a BMW M6 GTLM in colorful dots and text.

Four pictures of colorfully painted BMW cars
BMW Art Cars painted by Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons (clockwise from top left). BMW

Mehretu was unanimously selected by a panel of art world heavyweights including Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Madeleine Grynsztejn, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “For years, Julie has painted speed and for a long time, worked successfully at scale,” said Grynsztejn in a statement. “She has an understanding of space and speed that is a perfect partner to the BMW Art Car.”

In addition to receiving the MacArthur Award and the U.S. Department of State Medal for Arts Award, Mehretu, who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, has had her work surveyed at institutions like the Whitney Museum and LACMA. The artist has also engaged in various forms of philanthropy, pledging the $6.5 million sale proceeds of her painting Dissident Score to Art for Justice, a foundation focused on the racial discrimination of mass incarceration.

Abstract painting with various geometric shapes and lines against light background
Julie Mehretu’s Stadia I, (2004) Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery © Julie Mehretu

“I’ve loved cars for most of my life, as toys, as objects, as possibilities,” said Mehretu in a statement. “It is from that space that I’m really excited to be working on the next BMW Art Car more than anything.” Her finished BMW race car will be displayed at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town in 2025, in an exhibition that will include the results of a series of artist workshops hosted by Mehretu and Mehret Mandefro, an Emmy-nominated film producer, in eight African cities. The BMW M Hybrid V8 will later join the rest of the Art Car collection at the BMW Museum in Munich, which often loans out the vehicles for international exhibitions.

Julie Mehretu Will Paint BMW’s Next Art Car