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Julie Mehretu, the revered New York-based painter known for her large-scale architectonic compositions, will soon be working with a surface as dynamic as the swirling forms for which she is known: she has been selected to create the next BMW Art Car, the 20th in the German automaker’s series of contemporary art commissions.

Mehretu’s selection was announced during a ceremony Wednesday evening (28 June) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. She will customise a BMW M Hybrid V8—a vehicle with a hybrid drive system, 640 horsepower and a top speed of around 345km per hour—which will be entered into the famous 24-hour race in Le Mans, France in June 2024.

BMW’s Art Car series, which launched in 1975 with a suitably popping paint job by Alexander Calder on a BMW 3.0 CSL, has since involved many of the biggest names in contemporary art, from Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol to Jenny Holzer, David Hockney, Jeff Koons and Cao Fei. Mehretu’s immediate predecessor in the project’s driver’s seat was the late John Baldessari, who gave a BMW M6 GTLM a suitably irreverent paint job in 2016.

John Baldessari with his BMW Art Car

“I’ve loved cars for most of my life, as toys, as objects, as possibilities. It is from that space that I’m really excited to be working on the next BMW Art Car more than anything,” Mehretu said in a statement.

Artist interview

A brush with… Julie Mehretu

The Ethiopian American artist was chosen for the commission unanimously by a jury that included outgoing Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi director Stephanie Rosenthal, the late Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019) and Koyo Kouoh, the director and chief curator of Zeitz Mocaa in Cape Town, South Africa, among others. Also on the jury was Hervé Poulain, who is credited with launching the BMW Art Car project and is now the chief executive of French auction house Artcurial.

“Julie Mehretu is mainly known for large-scale two-dimensional works which are based on speed, space, creating and imagining space,” Rosenthal said in a statement. This project “will extend, I think, her experience of working with a three-dimensional object and kind of implementing her idea of space, and also probably become a form of futurist architecture exploring technology”.

Julie Mehretu, See Gold, Cry Black, 2019

In addition to racing at Le Mans and travelling for temporary exhibitions, vehicles from the BMW Art Car series are on rotating display at the BMW Museum in Munich.

The Art Car commission is Mehretu’s most high-profile corporate commission in more than a decade. In 2010 she unveiled her massive Mural, an 80ft-long painting for the lobby of Goldman Sachs’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan.

In 2021, Mehretu donated her painting Dissident Score (2019-21) to support collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund’s Art for Justice Fund. Its sale on the online art marketplace Artsy for a record $6.5m helped support the organisation’s criminal justice reform efforts.

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