CARJACKED consists of a seventeen playable cars for Forza Motorsport, several digital videos (machinima), a set of digital photographs (screenshots) and C-prints
October 13, 2012
"I used to sell hippy art to collectors and these artists now live like the collectors I used to sell to. They have a house, a place in the country and a BMW." (Dave Hickey, 2012) [Source]
CARJACKED consists of 17 BMW cars created by Coll.eo with the Livery editor of the popular videogame Forza Motorsport 4 (Turn 10 Studios/Microsoft Game Studios, 2011) for the Xbox 360.
This project represents the digital counterpart of the ongoing BMW Art Cars initiative, launched in 1975. That year, French hobby race car driver and auctioneer Hervé Poulain invited American artist and friend Alexander Calder to paint the first BMW Art Car. Calder’s customization was soon followed by several others by world renown artists such as Frank Stella (1976), Roy Lichtenstein (1977), and Andy Warhol (1979).
The relationship between art and cars did not begin with BMW. As Peter Wollen (2005) writes, “It was the Italian futurists... who first hailed the car as a subject for the avant-garde artist. Umberto Boccioni had painted a speeding automobilist outstripping a fox as early as 1901” (5). And in 1909, Filippo Marinetti celebrated the automobile as a symbol of modern life and saw in the racing car a modern equivalent of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The fascination for the motor vehicle by the Art World, however, did not end with Marinetti. Between the 1930s and 1954, Italian artist Mario Sironi produced a series of posters and sketches for FIAT vehicles. In a 1967, another car manufacturer, Renault launched a department of “Recherches, Art et Industrie” and began a long and fruitful - at times conflictual - collaboration with sculptor Arman.
In 2009, a century after the publication of the Futurist manifesto, the BMW Art Cars began a massive North American tour, which included the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Grand Central Terminal - Vanderbilt Hall in New York City These one-of-a-kind vehicles were also exhibited in México, at MARCO, Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Finally, in July 2012 a selection was presented by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in a Shoreditch car park as part of the London Festival.
Ironically, the increased visibility of BMW Art Cars has failed to redeem the declining value of the car as a status symbol. Today, automobiles have lost their glamour and appeal. Motor vehicles have been identified as one of the major causes of economic, environmental, and health problems in the First World as well as in developing countries. And although cars are still mostly based on a 19th-century technology - the internal combustion engine - today the mechanical artifact thrives on a digital medium - the videogame. Cars are powerful, talismanic objects that combine design and technology.
With CARJACKED, COLL.EO introduced a much needed update to the BMW Art Cars initiative, re-configuring the project for the digital age, where cars’ collateral damage is less manifest but equally insidious. COLL.EO hijacked the project from the German automaker and selected a new generation of artists. Third, CARJACKED is a re-imagining of BMW’s initiative in a ludic domain, specifically in the popular Forza Motorsport series.
Racing games are glorified, interactive car commercials. The best-sellers -Need for Speed, Gran Turismo, and Forza - do not simulate driving realistically : in these games, players race through pedestrian-free streets of pristine metropolitan areas. Traffic, one of the major concerns of contemporary urban life, is curiously absent. Ditto for other key factors such as pollution, road construction, proliferation of parking lots in urban spaces, oil prices, geopolitical conflicts, environmental issues, accidents, congestion, and speed limit violations. In other words: the side effects of cars are never simulated. On the contrary, they are often celebrated, as in the case of President Barack Obama’s favorite racing game, Burnout Paradise which revolves around crashing virtual cars in dramatic, spectacular ways.
In short, there is nothing “realistic” about realistic racing games.
At the same time, racing games contribute to the fetishization of car brands. Unlike cinema, commercial videogames do not explore the cultural gravitas of motor vehicles. They simply celebrate their most materialistic and superficial aspects. Videogames are lucid dreams that titillate collective desires for speed, prestige, and recognition. As such, gaming lies at the intersection of advertising, technology, and consumer culture. People treat cars as extensions of themselves, projections of their identity, embodiment of their material desires and aspirations. The same logic applies to their virtual counterparts. In other words, racing games are powerful propaganda machines: they promote and reinforce the ideology of the motor vehicle by celebrating and extending the perceived value of a manufacturer brand. Digital games, like toys, are therefore part of a conditioning process that begins in early age. BMW sells "boys toys". BMW sells "art on wheels". BMW sells "sheer driving experiences".
Interestingly, the BMW Art Cars were originally driven on race circuits by professional pilots. Today, they are mostly used to promote the car manufacturer's brand. Calder’s 1975 art car made its debut not in a gallery or museum, but on a racetrack. But things have changed. As Thomas Girst, the director of the BMW Art Cars project since 2004, explained:
"In the beginning the cars were raced. There wasn't much of a public relations effort around them... Since then, some of the Art Cars have been used in advertisements to show that BMW is a player in the arts. [...] As a company, we are not altruistically involved in the arts, that is for sure. We, of course, want to build up the image: the image of BMW. We want a positive association from our engagement in the arts for the brand as a whole. Over the years, our involvement in blue-chip art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Basel, and Frieze London has certainly had an “in your face” approach: we want to be there with our cars, shuttle the VIPs, and thus create visibility, presence, and exposure for our brand within a commercial enterprise.” (quoted in Preece, 2009).
CARJACKED brings the aura of the motor vehicle back into the game. Literally: these virtual cars are playable works of art. Players can now race their one-of-a-kind masterpieces in a sophisticated interactive car advertisement produced by Microsoft within Forza Motorsport 4. The CARJACKED series is a complement to the tangible seventeen mobile artworks created by Alexander Calder (3.0 CLS, 1975), Frank Stella (3.0 CLS, 1976), Roy Lichtenstein (320i Turbo, 1977), Andy Warhol (M1 Group 4, 1979), Ernst Fuchs (635 CSi, 1982), Robert Rauschenberg (635 CSi, 1986), Ken Done (M3 Group A, 1989), Michael Nelson Jagamarra (M3, 1989), Matazo Kayama (535i, 1990), César Manrique (730i, 1990), A.R. Penck (Z1, 1991), Esther Mahlangu (5251, 1991), Sandro Chia (M3 GTR, 1992), David Hockney (850 CSi, 1995), Jenny Holzer (V12 LMR, 1993), Olafur Eliasson (H2R, 2007), Robin Rode (Z4, 2009), and Jeff Koons (2010, M3 GT2). BMW has been extremely successful in co-opting the Artworld to extend their marketing efforts.
The CARJACKED series by COLL.EO comprises seventeen playable cars after Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, Cy Twombly, Barbara Kruger, Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, Gerhard Richter, Yayoi Kusama, Sol LeWitt, Julian Opie, Bansky, Frank West, and many others. Ten of these cars are currently on display online, at colleo.org.
As an aside, the connection between cars and ludic artifacts has always been strong, but in the case of the BMW Art Cars, this link could not be stronger. The very first automobile painted by Alexander Calder in 1975 was not a “real” BMW, but a miniature toy car brought to him by Hervé Poulain. Interestingly, it took BMW thirty years to introduce a full set of limited edition miniature Art Cars to the market. These artifacts are now collectors' items and sell for hundreds of dollars.
The BMW Art Cars series has been hijacked before. In 1990 Keith Haring painted a BMW Z1. His car, however, is not included in the canon, that is, BMW’s “official” series - it is owned by a collector in France. Nonetheless, it has been exhibited in several museums and art galleries around the world. Clearly, the hijacking gesture also concerns the artists, whose styles, motifs, techniques, and personas have been appropriated by COLL.EO.
Painstakingly handmade by COLL.EO with Forza’s signature Livery editor, these cars are virtual paintings on digital wheels and complement the only BMW Art Car featured in Forza Motorsport 4, Jeff Koons’ M3 GT2.
COLL.EO is Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bittanti
San Francisco, October 13, 2012
Marinetti, Filippo T. "The Futurist Manifesto" , 1909. URL
Preece, R.J. (June 11, 2009). 'Communicating BMW Art Cars: Interview with Thomas Girst.' ADP/Sculpture magazine. URL.
Wollen, Peter. “Automobiles and Art” in Wollen, Peter and Joe Kerr (Eds.), Autopia. Cars and Culture. London. Reaktion Books. 25 - 49.