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Calder BMW Art Car (Artist’s Proof)

Calder BMW Art Car (Artist’s Proof)

The Norton Museum of Art has announced that it will present Special Guest: Calder BMW Art Car. The exhibition will spotlight the Calder BMW Art Car (Artist's Proof, 1975/2021) by American artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976) as part of the Norton’s “Special Guest” temporary exhibition series featuring notable loans to the institution.

On view through April 24, 2022, the piece will be installed in the Gilbert and Ann Maurer Lobby alongside a tapestry by Calder and archival film footage. 

“Our ‘Special Guest’ exhibition series at the Norton provides visitors with the opportunity to see extraordinary works of art that often are not accessible to the public,” said Ghislain d’Humières, Director and CEO of the Norton Museum of Art. “The Calder BMW Art Car (Artist’s Proof) is no exception—as this installation marks the artwork’s debut in the United States at an institutional venue.” 

In 1974, French auctioneer and racecar driver Hervé Poulain commissioned Calder to paint a BMW race car. One year later, the momentous collaboration was realized. Calder devised dynamic forms in bold colors across the car’s wings, bonnet, and roof that recall the artist’s famous mobiles and stabiles, but also his two-dimensional works. Conceived by BMW Group Classic for the Calder Foundation, the Artist’s Proof realizes Calder’s dream of creating his own example of the first BMW Art Car, operating as the kinetic work of art that he intended.  

Calder’s BMW Art Car raced for the first and only time at 24 Heures du Mans on June 14, 1975. One of the final works of art created before the artist’s death, the project was a momentous collaboration that spurred an entire Art Car program at BMW—a prestigious, high-profile crossover with the art world. After Calder’s Art Car competed at Le Mans, it was subsequently exhibited at the artist’s sprawling retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in 1976, where it occupied a prominent place in the museum for the run of the blockbuster exhibition. 

Alexander S. C. Rower, president of the Calder Foundation and grandson of the artist, said, “I first encountered the BMW Art Car as a kid at the opening of my grandfather’s far-ranging retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1976. I asked him about the roar of its M49 engine, and he smiled and told me he wanted to make one for himself. He died just a few weeks later. Ever since, I have dreamed of realizing his wish to bring the car to life to experience its full glory in motion.” 

The 2021 Artist’s Proof was conceived by BMW Group Classic for the Calder Foundation not as a replica, but as the unrealized, identical artist’s proof to which Calder was originally entitled. Meticulously developed from an original BMW 3.0 CSL, the Artist’s Proof carries the same Vehicle Identification Number, with the suffix “AP” (227592/AP). To create it, the two organizations consulted with key members of the initial project including Poulain and Walter Maurer, who completed the technical painting of the 1975 Calder BMW Art Car as well as that of the Artist’s Proof in 2021.  

Poulain recalls, “It was a thrilling moment as a young driver to meet the great American artist Alexander Calder at his home in Saché. Racing what became the first in a storied tradition of prestigious Art Cars is a memory I will never forget. I am delighted that more people will now get to experience Calder’s vision, thanks to this new Artist’s Proof.” 

The installation represents the latest iteration of the Norton’s “Special Guests” series, which displays exceptional works of art on loan from public and private collections. Other special guests currently on view include Special Guest: The Water Lily Pond (Clouds), featuring Claude Monet’s The Water Lily Pond (Clouds) from the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art and Special Guest: Beaching the Boat (Afternoon Light) A Masterpiece by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, from the holdings of the Hispanic Society of America in New York. Both paintings date to 1903.  

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