The American painter and sculptor Jeff Koons is one of the world's best-known contemporary artists, and his works are constantly setting price records – such as the sculpture "Rabbit," which sold for $91 million at Christie's auction house in 2019. Everyday objects and advertising images from our consumer culture serve as inspiration for his large-format paintings with a neo-pop aesthetic and oversized high-gloss stainless steel sculptures. In the creative process, Jeff Koons plays the role of the idea generator; the works are realized primarily by his team. He also forges ties with industry, as in the course of his cooperation with BMW, for which he designed a "BMW Art Car" in 2010 – a task that the Bavarian engine manufacturer had already entrusted to other greats of the art world, such as Alexander Calder (1975), Andy Warhol (1979), Esther Mahlangu (1991), David Hockney (1995) and Olafur Eliasson (2007). "The 8 X Jeff Koons," a limited-edition interpretation of the "M850i xDrive Gran Coupé," is the latest result of the collaboration between Jeff Koons and BMW.
Alexander Russ: How did the cooperation with Jeff Koons come about?
Corona Döring: The cooperation for "The 8 X Jeff Koons" dates back to 2018. However, BMW already collaborated with Jeff Koons in 2010 as part of the "BMW Art Car" series. There are thematic interfaces that interest both him as an artist and us as BMW designers – for example, the interaction of people, space and energy.
Steven Wörns: Since the joint "BMW Art Car" in 2010, BMW and Jeff Koons have always been in contact with each other. The relationship between him and BMW has grown over the years and we feel very comfortable with each other, almost like family. And perhaps it is precisely this special relationship that will bring us together again in the future.
Is the "The 8 X Jeff Koons" a new "BMW Art Car"?
Corona Döring: The new cooperation is a special case, as the car is not a one-off, but is produced in a total run of 99 units and actually goes on the road – which means there is road approval and also repair concepts such as for the paintwork. That, of course, has created a completely different set of conditions.
Doesn't the car used for the collaboration – an "M850i xDrive Gran Coupé" – run counter to a sustainability agenda such as the one BMW recently presented with the "BMW i Vision Circular"?
Steven Wörns: The "The 8 x Jeff Koons" is inspired by the "BMW Art Car" history, which goes back to 1975. There are now 19 of these "BMW Art Cars" and a large number of the vehicles come from racing – such as the "BMW M3GT2" designed by Jeff Koons in 2010. These are all cars that stand for power and speed. Jeff Koons wanted to tie in with this with his artistic concept. The BMW 8 Series therefore seemed the right choice for him.
Corona Döring: Jeff Koons' art is very expressive and he is very interested in energy. That was also the starting point for his concept: a transport of energy and its effect on the passengers. You can see that, for example, in the striking graphics that completely cover the car, but also in the color concept and the seat design.
Does the artistic concept include only the surface or also the construction of the car?
Corona Döring: It is purely a color and material theme. So there were no geometric or technical adaptations of the car.
Another element of Jeff Koons' art is the taking up of mundane everyday objects, which are then exaggerated and refined in his art. Something similar happens in "The 8 X Jeff Koons," in which he applies a comic-like graphic to a luxurious limousine like the "M850i xDrive Gran Coupé."
Corona Döring: But the graphics are completely in the foreground. You can see that, among other things, in the way he handles the so-called character lines – the lines that result from the embossed sheet metal of the body. The comic-like graphics break up the geometric structure of the car and thus take away its austerity. This may seem arbitrary at first glance, but its placement and effect were quite deliberately planned by Jeff Koons and his team. One example is the star at the front end of the "M850i xDrive Gran Coupé," where there was a millimeter-by-millimeter balancing of technical possibilities and artistic intention.
You mentioned the color concept at the beginning. Can you tell us more about it?
Corona Döring: Jeff Koons is very interested in technical-craft processes and concrete implementation. You can see that in his other artworks as well. In his "The 8 X Jeff Koons," a lot of colors are involved in different combinations. The color coordination came about in a close exchange of color samples between Munich and New York and a struggle for every nuance. There was also a workshop with him in our factory in Dingolfing, where the final colors were then tested on a concrete model and then determined.
How was the graphic applied to the car?
Corona Döring: That was one of the big challenges of the project, because the graphics were realized in a manual process. The first approach was to apply the individual graphic elements using stencils. However, this was not easy due to the interaction between the geometry of the "M850i xDrive Gran Coupé" and the graphics. In addition, "The 8 X Jeff Koons" is not a single car, but will be produced in a total run of 99 units. So we not only had to ensure that Jeff Koons' specifications were implemented exactly, but also that the artistic concept could be reproduced.
What did the concrete solution look like?
Corona Döring: The whole thing was implemented using semi-finished products that lie flush with the body. These provided the structure, which enabled us to work with foils and stencils. Overall, this is very time-consuming and requires a high degree of concentration.
The expressiveness of the bodywork is also continued inside in the form of the color scheme and the materials chosen. Can you tell us more about that?
Corona Döring: The colors inside the car, like the exterior, have a certain surprise effect. The unusual color combinations create a tension, which then also creates a certain energy. However, Jeff Koons has gone more into the respective geometries in order to, as he said, "let the colors flow over them" and thus create an energetic flow. Incidentally, you can also find his passion for handcrafted details here, for example in deciding which thread to use to sew the leather seats. Overall, he was very involved in the process – it was a real team effort.