Jeff Koons, perhaps the most famous living artist, has never owned a sports car, at least not until he designed one. The 8 X Jeff Koons is a limited edition of 99 BMW M850 xDrive Gran Coupes designed by the artist in collaboration with the German automaker. Each car takes 200 hours to paint by hand in a process that requires magnifying glasses and eleven different colours, with only four cars being completed each week. It’s not a vinyl wrap, in case you were wondering, because that would never do; Koons is a noted perfectionist. He visited BMW’s plant in Dingolfing, Germany several times to ensure the end product lived up to his vision. Of course, from an artist who is probably best known for a three-foot-tall stainless steel bunny rabbit sculpture, which sold at auction for $91 million USD, we’d expect nothing less.
We sat down with Koons at Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne museum to talk about the meaning of life, cars, and what this BMW project is all about.
“I’ve never really been a sports car person myself, and I have a large family,” Koons says. “So, I’ve tended to always be in vehicles that worked to transport the whole group. My kids would always say, ‘Dad, you should get that car, you should get a sports car.’ Well, their dad finally has one.”
“I really am looking forward to presenting myself in this vehicle, because I would sometimes have a hard time with — maybe the car being a little too showy, but I really believe in the message of [this] car,” he added. According to Koons, the whole team working on the project cared a lot and found meaning through their collaboration.
“The warmth, the true meaning, the importance in life is being able to communicate with other people,” he says. The ‘POP!’ typography on each side of the 8 Series, as well as the “vapor thrust” graphic, are meant to communicate the power and speed of BMW’s 523 horsepower sedan, according to the artist. And the bright red-and-blue leather interior looks as if it were made out of Spiderman himself.
If communication was the ultimate goal, The 8 X Jeff Koons certainly achieves it. The car wears the fact that it’s fast and powerful on its sleeve, and yet it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s almost mocking itself, which — if you ask us — is a refreshing change of pace from all the self-serious supercars out there.
Jeff Koons never owned a sports car until this one, but he was around fast cars as a teenager. “I worked at a drag strip, in Pennsylvania. The US 30 dragstrip; they raced the quarter mile. So these were like Pro Stock, racecars, funny cars, and I loved this visceral quality of the sound and the rumble, the speed,” he remembers. It was just a job though so don’t mistake him for a gearhead. For him, cars are primarily social machines. “They represent mobility, being together,” Koons explained. As a child, his parents would pile the whole family into the car and drive together on weekends to a restaurant in a nearby county, or to visit relatives. “I’ve always had kind of warm associations [with automobiles],” he recounts.
This 8 Series is not the first car he’s created, though. In 2010, Koons designed a dazzling M3 GT2 that competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race before being put on display. In doing so, he joined a small group of illustrious artists who have created BMW Art Cars. The first was designed by Alexander Calder in 1975, at the behest of Hervé Poulain, a French racecar driver and art aficionado, and then-head of BMW Motorsport Jochen Neerpasch. Since then, 18 different artists from around the world have been invited to create one-off BMW Art Cars, including Roy Lichtenstein, Esther Mahlangu, Jenny Holzer, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Ólafur Elíasson, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Cao Fei, John Baldessari, and the list goes on.
What makes The 8 X Jeff Koons special — in addition to everything else — is that it’s the first time one of those artists has collaborated on a car that customers can actually purchase and drive on the street.
One of the cars, signed on the tailgate by Koons, will be auctioned off at Christie’s in New York on April 4. All proceeds will go to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, a charity with which Koons has been involved for more than 20 years. The other 98 limited-edition art cars will be available on a first come, first served basis at dealerships worldwide. There’s no word on how much The 8 X Jeff Koons will cost, but we’re guessing it’ll be a little less expensive that his $91 million steel rabbit.