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Andy Warhol BMW coming to Boston

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  September 4, 2013 09:00 AM

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Before vinyl wraps took the craft away from custom-painted car bodies, there were "art cars." Specifically, BMW's art cars, a series of post-modern, abstract paintings draped on its coupes, sedans and race cars. After BMW racing driver Herve Poulain had Alexander Calder paint his 3.0 CSL in 1975, the automaker began commissioning other artists on a semi-regular basis. One of them was pop art icon Andy Warhol.

His creation, a 1979 M1 that finished second-in-class during that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, regularly appears in museums and shows across the globe. And on Oct. 5, it'll be on display in Boston at the Park Plaza Castle as part of ARTcetera 2013, a local artist gathering that raises money for HIV/AIDS research and prevention.

Warhol, himself openly gay before the AIDS epidemic hit the 1980s, had gained plenty of fame through his posterized images of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's soup cans by the time BMW asked him to paint over its midengine M1 race car. After working up a scale mockup, Warhol took a brush and painted the entire car -- including his trademark signature on the back bumper -- in a reported 23 minutes. Up close, the brush strokes and rough edges wouldn't pass muster in a BMW paint shop, but the effect is well, Warhol.

"I tried to portray a sense of speed," he said to news outlets at the time. "When a car is going really fast all the lines and colors become a blur."

Massachusetts BMW dealers are sponsoring ARTcetera for the first time this year, which was last held in 2011. The nonprofit group says it will auction 300 pieces of modern art worth up to a half-million dollars. The M1, which is being borrowed from a six-month stint at the Saratoga Auto Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., isn't for sale. Even without Warhol's touch, a racing-spec M1 could easily gross $500,000 (in fact, another M1 race car painted by Frank Stella took $854,000 at an auction in 2011).

Only 456 cars were built between 1978 and 1980, with 399 sold for road use in Europe in order to legalize the car for racing. Internally, BMW considered the M1 a failure at the time, with excessive costs -- its fiberglass body was designed and built in Italy, then shipped to Germany for final assembly -- and an unimpressive racing scorecard. Today, the M1 looks as mighty as ever.

BMW has 16 other official "art cars" in its collection, the latest being a streaked M3 GT2 penned by Jeff Koons in 2010. You can see Warhol's M1 at the Castle with a $350 minimum ticket. Who said art came cheap?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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