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A blue 2023 BMW M850i xDrive Gran Coupé is shown from the side at a BMW dealership.

Breaking the 4th Wall with a BMW and Jeff Koons

There’s a new car rolling out of the BMW Group Plant Dingolfing this year that is unlikely to ever find itself on an average BMW dealership lot—probably not even on the lots in Munich! What vehicle could be so special as to claim exemption from the normal life cycle of the 20 other BMW models built in this enormous facility? While the car itself—a 2023 M850i xDrive Gran Coupé—is no slouch, it isn’t exactly distinguished from its brethren. Until, that is, it is subjected to an extraordinary livery process that transforms it into “THE 8 X JEFF KOONS” limited edition, a 99-unit run of Art Cars styled by artist Jeff Koons and engineered in collaboration with dozens of experts at BMW’s Dingolfing and Landshut painting operations.

Jeff Who Edition?

To those in the know, please forgive the uncultured swine such as myself who had to look the name up. Jeff Koons is no obscure upstart; the 66-year-old American artist has been making high-brow critics pull their hair out for decades! Primarily known for his dynamic sculptures, Koons is certainly an interesting case. He usually does not claim much in the way of deeper meanings in his art, but rather focuses on what symbolism and experiences draw him to produce something the way that he does.

Most famously, that has involved referencing the joy of birthday parties, the complex and ever-changing nature of mirror finishes, and (for reasons unclear) making small things very, very big. Art In Context calls Koons the Willy Wonka of art, saying, “[…his creation] is not chocolate but instead a factory of shiny sculptures that all appear as if they have come out of a fantasy book and doubled or tripled in size. Indeed, Jeff Koons’ art reminds us of our childhood—imagining a grandiosity that falls outside of what is real.” Balloon Dog, a 10’ tall stainless steel sculpture, which looks like what it’s named for—and was meticulously detailed to ensure a satisfactory degree of realism—is the most famous of these. The childishness, simplicity, and size of the 5 vibrantly colored Balloon Dogs is almost a laugh in the face of traditional art, a laugh that’s all the louder after the orange one alone sold for $58.4 million at an auction—a record for work by a living artist.

The 8 X BMW JEFF KOONS 2023 M850i xDrive Gran Coupé is shown in close up.

You Might Have Heard This One Before

THE 8 X JEFF KOONS is hardly the first BMW Art Car project. Since 1975, 19 artists have contributed to a lineage of BMW Art Cars, all of which can be viewed in augmented reality for free via the Acute Art app (which I am absolutely downloading as soon as I finish writing this)! From Alexander Calder’s 3.0 CSL race car that started it all, to Andy Warhol’s M1 in 1979, through the decades to the M850i that makes Art Car #20, each one represents an artist’s unique style and perspective—applied to BMW on the grandest stages.

You may have noticed something amiss in that paragraph. If this is Art Car #20, and BMW has collaborated with 19 artists, surely I’ve made a mistake…right?

Not this time! That’s because THE 8 X JEFF KOONS represents the first time that an artist has returned for a follow-up with BMW. Koons was also responsible for Art Car #17! The 2010 M3 GT2 car harkened back to the roots of the series with pop art that almost looks like it was applied while the car was racing down a straightaway—to the delight of thousands of fans. Like the original BMW Art Car, the M3 GT2 was at the starting line for the 24 Hours of Le Mans!
Despite needing to retire from its one and only race, the first Jeff Koons car was an enduring hit with BMW fans, and its legacy lives on in the new model coming out this year. But more on that later.

One of 99 of a Kind

As far as I can tell, THE 8 X JEFF KOONS marks the first time in the BMW Art Car project’s history that multiple units are being built and sold as production cars. If one considers the effort that has gone into making this run of 99 cars—which is going to take all of 2022 to produce—then maybe that history makes a bit more sense.

Unsurprisingly, the Art Car involves a liberal application of geometry, fine detail, and color diversity. Not exactly suited to your typical assembly line spray shop. It took an enormous team months to fine-tune the process so that all 99 cars could be precisely reproduced with exquisite attention to detail—something Koons prides himself in, saying that anything less would cost him credibility among those who enjoy his art. The outcome is a one-of-a-kind combination of large-scale manufacturing processes and world-class craftsmanship applied by hand in the paint shop. This is easily the most extensive design effort in BMW’s long history, according to CEO Oliver Zipse.

At Dingolfing, production of THE 8 X JEFF KOONS starts as any 2023 M850i xDrive Gran Coupé does—until it reaches the paint shop. On top of a Glacier Silver base coat, 11 total colors are applied by a 20-person team using stencils and foils to sort out the intricate details of the pop-art and geometric elements by hand. The technicians at Dingolfing and Landshut, who work around the clock and will still only produce 2 units per week, were hand-picked for the job, and many received specific training beyond their well-established painiting skills so they’d be up to the task.

The outcome is a “multitone” process, developed and applied at the BMW Group Plant Landshut component factory to precisely replicate items like the 7-color, 12-coat tailgate 99 times over. Once Koons had the design fleshed out in two dimensions, he spent months visiting Germany and collaborating with BMW’s experts to translate that image onto the car. Not only did the 2D to 3D transition warrant consideration; also key was incorporating body lines and physical edges so that the art became one with the car, without becoming distorted or sloppy-looking.

Laser projectors are used to ensure the accurate positioning of stencils, while contours between layers of paint are stenciled by hand, “a task requiring years of experience and craftsmanship,” according to BMW. (No arguments from the writer, who gets the shakes when they think about getting the shakes.)

A clear coat is applied to all painted components using the standard assembly line process, but then it’s back to the coachbuilder-like cells for regular hand-brushing—to eliminate nigh-imperceptible flaws in the transitions between painted elements. The fine brushing is time-consuming and requires extreme precision from all involved, but it’s necessary to ensure a flawless paint job. The end result is a vehicle that may be as polarizing as it is expensive (retailing for $350,000, about $250,000 more than the standard M850i xDrive Gran Coupé). But, with a 285-hour paint application process—equivalent to 7 weeks of labor—you’re getting what you pay for, to the tune of about $887 per hour. (Thanks to Reddit user u/Gr0wlerz for doing the math.)

The 8 X WMB JEFF KOONS 2023 M850i xDrive Gran Coupé is shown being painted.

Looking Fast, Standing Still

Alright, I’m done teasing you. Let’s talk about how the new BMW Art Car actually looks!

It is quite unlikely that any examples of THE 8 X JEFF KOONS will see their odometers crack 4 or even 3 digits; they are works of art and represent serious financial investments with a strong opportunity for appreciation, after all. And, road wear is a bad look for Mona Lisa. Despite the fact that they’ll spend most of their existence sitting still, though, they look like they’re in motion all the time.

Yellow bumpers bookend the car, framing the comic-book feel of the piece. The hood is a grid of blue on silver—like windows on skyscrapers flying past—emblazoned with a huge BMW roundel, surrounded by golden and Bavarian Blue half-circles that give it a pulsing, kinetic appearance. If the car were a superhero, this would be the badge on its chest.

The vertically striped sides are covered in lines, the likes of which are commonly used to depict motion in comics. Koons says the alternating light and dark blue colors signify “the vastness of space”, and the lines grow thicker towards the rear—a detail nearly imperceptible until you know it’s there, but subconsciously contributing to that sense of motion. Easily perceived, however, are the decal-like pop-art features from bumper to bumper. Four starbursts—one of which includes a bright yellow “POP!”—and an enormous “vapor thrust” emanating from the front wheel well vents dominate the scene. Together, these features make the car look like it’s in the middle of an exciting action sequence.

The biggest starburst of all, in the middle of a white cloud, is a colorful explosion centered on the rear face of the car. A not-too-subtle nod to the previous Koons Art Car, the feature gives the impression that the M850i is powered by a rocketing jet engine instead of the 523 hp twin-turbo V8 that’s actually under the hood—and finishes our tour with a bang.

Of course, that isn’t quite everything special about THE 8 X JEFF KOONS. The interior continues the brilliant color display, with the leather seats decked out in a vivid combination of M-division red and blue; one could be forgiven for thinking more about Superman or Spiderman than BMW M, as this was surely the point. A luscious brown leather adorns the remaining trim, except for metal and piano black accents, and a couple of Jeff Koons signatures round it all out. Each unit will come with a large format certificate of authenticity, with Jeff Koons and Oliver Zipse’s signatures in Bavarian Blue for a final touch of attention to detail. After all, when buying art, it’s nice to walk away with something to put on your wall.

Art in Motion

When done well, Art Cars are a match made in heaven. The bodywork of automobiles is undoubtedly an artform unto itself, and an entire industry is dedicated to aftermarket appearance modifications so passionate enthusiasts can make their car truly unique. BMW Art Cars publicize the brand wonderfully, entertaining the racing crowd with something other than sheer lap times, and showcasing a greater sense of culture than corporate capitalism would normally foster. Now, BMW is offering 99 lucky buyers the chance to own a piece of that history, curated by one of the world’s greatest living artists and manufactured by an exceptional production team.

Beautiful in the traditional sense, it is not. However, the collaboration and technical achievement that it represents, the inescapable sense that the car is a comic book superhero in action, and its significance in modern art and BMW history—these attributes together give THE 8 X JEFF KOONS meaning that transcends the car itself. In short, this super-special edition of the BMW M850i xDrive Gran Coupé is a genuine work of art, plain and simple.

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