These Five Automotive Companies Are Putting Contemporary Art in the Driver’s Seat

Built by craftsmen and technicians with extraordinary sensitivity for contour, color, intricate details, and eye-grabbing verve, the world’s premier automobiles are aesthetic masterworks in their own right. So, it’s no wonder that so many top art collectors, from Adam Lindemann to artnet News’s own columnist Kenny Schachter, collect cars as well. The esteem, of course, goes both ways. Automakers—most famously BMW, with their storied Art Car series—have made plain their love for fine artists, often pursuing memorable collaborations with them.

Fresh on the heels of the New York International Auto Show, which concluded on Sunday, we’ve assembled a list of some of the most creative, compelling experiments blending cars with artistic innovation. Who knew, for instance, that Mercedes-Benz is taking cues from Andres Serrano for their new amber suspension? See for yourself below!

Installation view of “TOILETPAPER Paradise” at Cadillac House. Courtesy of Cadillac.

A case study for marrying the fields of art and technology is the stalwart of American automobiles, Cadillac. In 2015, the company moved to Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood—evolving beyond its gritty, Motor City history—and in 2016 it unveiled Cadillac House, a creative incubator space that has some impressive art cred attached. Along with the luxury/art/fashion publication Visionaire, Cadillac House hosts art shows and events, like Daniel Arsham’s pink-hued light installation “Lunar Garden” and “TOILETPAPER Paradise,” a psychedelic potpourri designed by Maurizio Cattelan and photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. Cadillac has also fruitfully engaged with the fashion world through partnerships with such talents as designer (and clothier to Michelle Obama) Jason Wu, who created a branded collaboration in Refinery29’s 2017 iteration of the viral 29Rooms, following it up by presenting a temporary showcase of Wu’s contemporary line, Grey, with the automaker.

Nino Mustica & Gerry McGovern’s “Unstoppable Spirit” at Southbank Centre’s iconic Royal Festival Hall beside the River Thames.

In 2014, this car company launched its “Unstoppable Spirit” campaign at London’s Frieze Week with the debut of the new Land Rover Discovery Sport—accompanied by two sculptures by the Italian artist Nino Mustica. Jaguar Land Rover chief creative officer Gerry McGovern, who has served as a visiting professor at the UK’s Royal College of Art, worked closely with Mustica to realize the 3-D-printed works as abstracted “shapes of color” based on automotive design principles. In 2016, the company sponsored the Born Design Awards with a unique work by renown artist Richard Orlinski, who created one of his geometric-animal sculptures enclosed within the wire frame of a Range Rover SUV.

Jaguar Land Rover’s “The Night Time Sun” initiative. Courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover and Produce UK.

As part of its commitment to a zero-emissions future and global sustainability, the automaker partnered with the UK-based company Climate Care to roll out the “Lighting Up Lives” project in 2017. Along with Climate Care, the company is providing renewable solar-powered lamps to over one million people living in Kenya, many of whom are exposed to the toxins emitted by kerosene lamps. To demonstrate the effect of bringing additional light to Kenya, Jaguar Land Rover enlisted artist Tupac Martir, whose résumé includes works for Coachella and the New York Festival of Light, to construct a glowing sphere that would illuminate visitors to the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts.

Installation of “Letters,” created by artist Michael Murphy. Courtesy of Lexus.

Lexus partnered with artist Michael Murphy for the March 2018 “Love Letters” campaign, a visual interpretation of the Lexus Covenant, the company’s longstanding guiding principles. Murphy gathered 2,000 original thank-you letters sent to Lexus and folded each of them into an origami sphere. They were then individually suspended from 16-foot-tall steel frames. Seen from different vantage points, the origami pieces take the shape of either the new Lexus Sedan or the iconic Lexus logo, epitomizing what the artist calls “perceptual art.” The marriage of form and function is at the heart of the Lexus ethos, and the precision of Murphy’s sculpted forms—the result of hundreds of hours of work—evokes the company’s dedication to craftsmanship.

Michael Murphy’s “Letters” installation. Courtesy of Lexus.

Another company working with artists to provide a new perspective on their historic legacy is the standard-setting luxury behemoth Mercedes-Benz. At the spring 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the brand unveiled a work that could have come straight from the fossil rooms of the Natural History Museum: suspended within 44.4 tons of synthetic amber, the 1979 G-Class is the first iteration of an iconic off-road vehicle that has become a cult classic (though its original design is hardly ancient-looking but rather au courant today). The work is fittingly titled “Stronger Than Time.”

5. VOLVO

Still from the 2017 Volvo Art Session Performance. Courtesy of Volvo, EQAL Visual Productions AG, Studio Leigh Sachwitz.

Every year since 2011, Volvo has hosted its annual Art Sessions in Switzerland, inviting creatives from all over the world to take part in a celebration of innovative thinking across the fields of technology, dance, sound, and visual art. For the second year, the artists behind flora&faunavisions used contemporary dance to illustrate humans’ relationship to an increasingly technological world. Along with Berlin-based musician Dariusz Voltra, the duo behind Team Recycled (Afina Feodossiadi and Daniel Asamoah) performed in front of screens that projected the newly released Volvo XC40. 

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