Hervé Poulain and the BMW Art Cars, the story of a passion


BMW Art Cars
BMW Art Cars
© Christian Kain

4 legendary models from the collection of 19 motorised works of art, created by internationally famous artists, will be on display at the BMW Brand Store in Paris from March 13th to April 5th 2019.


This project, a coming-together of art and motor racing, was first mooted in 1975, when Hervé Poulain was dreaming of taking part in the legendary competition that is the Le Mans 24 hours. As a young auctioneer and racing driver, he wanted to somehow unite his twin passions – art and speed. He suggested to a constructor that he should be given a car which he could have decorated by an eminent contemporary artist, with the idea of making it an Art Car. It was Jochen Neerpasch, founder of BMW Motorsport, who supported him in this innovative project – where art and industry would co-exist.




Calder & Hervé Poulain
Calder and Hervé Poulain
© DR courtesy Artcurial

Hervé Poulain turned to Alexander Calder to create the first Art Car. After buying a scale model of a 3.0 CSL from a toy shop, Hervé set off for Saché in the Touraine region, where the artist could often be found. At the end of lunch, Calder took a blank piece of paper and wrote out his commitment for Neerpasch – ‘OK to paint the car of Poulain and his colts, regards to everyone’ (the French word ‘poulain’ means ‘colt’ in English). From these few words the first Art Car was born. During the subsequent race, the car was not only a roaring success with spectators, but also with professionals such as Leo Castelli and Arman, who introduced artists to Hervé Poulain.




BMW Frank Stella
Frank Stella: BMW 3.0 CSL 1976 (finished 24th at the Le Mans 24 Hours)
In-line 6-cylinder turbo engine, maximum speed 341 kmph

The following year, Frank Stella was chosen to undertake the work – and he decided to show us what is normally hidden from view. He covered the car in graph paper and depicted the beauty of the internal workings and the spirit of the engineers on the bodywork. In 1977, Roy Lichtenstein painted a sunrise and a sunset on the doors, an allusion to the cosmic cycle of the 24 hours. Other famous artists followed, such as Andy Warhol and Arman, the latter being a close friend of Hervé Poulain, along with César and Georges Wolinski. In 1998 Wolinski embellished the bodywork of a Porsche GT2 with sunbathing beauties.


With his co-driver Jean-Luc Maury-Laribière, Hervé finished in three races. For any driver, crossing the finishing line at Le Mans is a victory in itself. Although today Hervé has stopped racing, he admits ‘the gavel continues to give me the same rush as the steering wheel. I relive the thrill of these exploits… Long live art! Long live speed! Going fast is to win time and therefore to win at living’.


Since then, great names from the art world – such as Ernst Fuchs, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney and Jeff Koons have continued to enrich the Art Cars collection. This exhibition pays tribute to Hervé Poulain and also brings home the beauty of the BMW Art Cars, a story which began being written 43 years ago.


This exhibition, lasting just over 3 weeks, will tell the general public the story of the Art Cars with a display of 4 legendary models which, for Hervé Poulain ‘are more than works of art, because they came to life. They have raced, they have taken risks, they have made noise. These artworks, they are great because they were living things’.



Public exhibition in Paris

From March 13th to April 5th 2019
Free entrance from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 8pm

BMW Brand Store
38 avenue George V
75008 Paris


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