Often we refer to an automobile as a work of art. Granted, some are more aesthetically appealing than others but, see an early Jaguar E-Type, a Ferrari Dino, a Lamborghini Miura or one of many timeless sports cars and there's no denying the analogy: they're nothing short of sculptural.
But how about your average Eurobox? Could you ever describe a current Merc, Audi or BMW as a work of art? Not really, but that doesn't mean the cars and the art world must remain mutually exclusive and, from now until December 5, you can view some truly impressive pieces of locally-produced art while speccing up a new BMW, Mini or Rolls-Royce at the world's largest BMW dealership - Abu Dhabi Motors. Tying in with the Abu Dhabi Art activities, the exhibition, entitled: "The Road is Your Easel", showcases paintings, prints, sculptures and carvings from a diverse, multicultural selection of artists.
Why? Because BMW says it recognises the importance of colour and design when it comes to dropping large sums of money on a new automobile. As if to prove the point, there is a car in each area of the huge showroom premises, with a BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, a Mini Cooper and even a Rolls-Royce Phantom on display, with mad graphics that look like an art class has gone mad with them. Actually they've been treated to foil wraps, which will no doubt be removed before the cars are sold to new customers.
To be fair, BMW does have previous form when it comes to this. Back in 1975, the first BMW Art Car was created when French racing driver and auctioneer, Hervé Poulain, commissioned an American artist named Alexander Calder to use a BMW 3.0 CSL race car as a blank canvas. Poulain was well connected in the art world and was good friends with several well-known artists, so it was obviously an ideal way to mix business with pleasure, creating something totally radical in the process. The car was raced at Le Mans and set something of a template for future examples, with other renowned artists getting in on the act. David Hockney, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were just some of them.
While the "canvas" of the cars' bodywork might have been quite ordinary, the finished results were anything but. The original CSL painted by Calder, for instance, is a stunning riot of colour, giving the (admittedly gorgeous) racer a wild look that must have been extraordinary to see in action, particularly at Le Mans. The models that followed pushed the envelope even further, with each artist stamping his or her personal identity onto cars that are now viewed by collectors as bona fide pieces of modern art.
The artists themselves have come to view a commission to produce an Art Car as a great honour - the last one, in 2010, was Jeff Koons. He spoke at the time of a "tradition set forth by such great artists as Calder, Lichtenstein, Stella and Warhol", and his resulting M3 GT2 racer is absolutely stunning, with dozens of multi-coloured stripes drawn from the radiator grille up front, all the way to the M3's rump. It looks like it's doing 300kph even when it's standing still.
BMW knows that its marketplace is a sophisticated one and, unlike many manufacturers with their over-the-top theatrics when promoting their vehicles, there's a subtlety at play here, which seems to work extremely well. Quite apart from the succession of Art Car BMWs produced over the years, the brand sponsors many art events around the world, yet it keeps its corporate image in the background, allowing the artists it supports their deserved time in the limelight.
All of the exhibits on display at Abu Dhabi Motors are available to buy, in conjunction with Dubai's Opera Gallery. Take your chequebook and an open mind, and prepare to clear a space on your living room wall.