Jeff Koons Teams Up With BMW To Create The 8 x Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons is the world’s most expensive living artist thanks to his shiny stainless steel Rabbit (1986) sold by Christie’s New York for a record-breaking $91.1 million in 2019. Koons is known for his aesthetically powerful and highly technical artworks that create a strong first impression. They have disrupted the medium of traditional sculpture and redefined the Minimalist and Pop Art movements.
Understanding the transformative power of the art object in our contemporary world, the New York City-based American artist has now conceived a special edition of the M850i xDrive Gran Coupe from BMW’s luxurious 8 Series, working closely with the German marque’s engineers and designers. Priced at €350,000 plus tax, The 8 x Jeff Koons sold out three weeks after its world premiere in February 2022.
Produced at BMW’s Bavarian plants, The 8 x Jeff Koons’s multilayer paint job requires more than 250 hours of painstaking hand-application by a team of 20 instead of the usual automated paint lines – the most time BMW has spent on the exterior paintwork of any automobile. The custom process is so complex that just four of these special models can be painted per week.
Featuring 11 different shades ranging from blue and silver to yellow and black and vibrant red-and-blue superhero leather seats, it is at once flashy and minimal. Encapsulating the essence of power and speed yet touching upon the human element, its comic book aesthetic showcases vapor-thrust imagery and the word “POP!” emblazoned on both sides.
Back in 2010, Koons had already imagined the brightly-colored 17th BMW Art Car evoking motion and energy that raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans – joining the likes of Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein – but the new The 8 x Jeff Koons is the car he had dreamt of creating all along.
At a Christie’s New York dinner in April, the final example of the 99-piece limited edition hammered for $475,000, with all proceeds donated to the International Center for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), a charity with which Koons has been involved for over two decades.
I sat down over breakfast with Koons in New York to talk about his creative process and his second BMW collaboration.
Q&P: How did you begin designing The 8 x Jeff Koons?
Jeff Koons: I got an outline of the car and the first thing that I did was to make a rectangle between the front door and the back door. I kept working on this rectangular shape because I wanted the core of the car to have a minimalist feel. The 8 Series has a very large hood, and I started dealing with Plato’s pure forms and then going into quintessence.
Q&P: Why did you want to pay homage to Pop Art and to Roy Lichtenstein with this new car?
JK: Roy was a great friend. I am not just paying homage to Roy; I am paying homage to popular culture. And the source material that Roy looked at was comic books. I just put some images – a pop or an explosion – that come from comic books. I grew up in a generation absorbing not only Surrealism and Dadaism, but Pop Art, so I’m referencing, in a minimal way, popular culture, which is the idea that you can have cerebral ideas through the excitement and stimulation of the body. That’s what the car tries to touch on.
Q&P: Why did you want each car to be hand-painted?
JK: I love the generosity of paint. You feel when something’s printed – you never get that saturation of color, you never get that generosity of the visual, the way light bounces off pigment or travels through pigment and comes back, and this car has that generosity.
Q&P: Your eldest son had been abducted by your ex-wife, who fled from New York to Italy with him in the 1990s. Tell me about selecting ICMEC as the beneficiary of the Christie’s charity auction of the final The 8 x Jeff Koons car to be manufactured.
JK: I started working with ICMEC in the mid-’90s. I was put into contact with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, started by John Walsh. I was really impressed with the way they collected information, people on computers creating aging processes, creating the Amber Alert. A lot of people don’t have the opportunities in life I have to be able to move forward because it’s a devastating experience, so I decided to try to help others. The International Center was just being created and was a vehicle to take all the information that the National Center had learned to work with other groups internationally and distribute that information. Today, it’s the world’s largest international organization dealing with the rights of children.
Q&P: Back in 2010, you had designed the 17th BMW Art Car. What were your sources of inspiration for your first BMW car?
JK: I looked at everything. I looked at all forms of energy, different explosions, the history of race cars, stock cars and different forms of racing. I really tried to absorb everything. I ended up using a photo of blurred Christmas tree lights as the basis. If you look really closely at the first beams of energy of light, they also relate to human energy to become light.
Q&P: Are you a car collector?
JK: Aesthetically, I love cars. The first car that captivated my imagination was the 1963 Corvette, but I developed this interest in art, so whenever I had cash, I would put it into art. My kids always said I should get a sports car. They showed me Lamborghinis or Bugattis, but nothing would ever seem right. It’d be too showy and just didn’t feel like me, so I felt like I had the opportunity here working on the 8 Series car to really make the car that I could see myself driving, that has an aspect of “wow, look at that,” but at the same time, is rooted in meaning and connected to things outside of just the peacock spreading its feathers.
Q&P: What does a good work of art, including The 8 x Jeff Koons, aim to do?
JK: I think that art strives to inspire, to stimulate and to connect to people, human history, and the moment. I have the desire to give people a platform where they feel secure and where they can adapt and change. I think art is just a living organism trying to understand its environment, its past, its present situation, and what its potential may be.
It’s been in every community that’s formed.
Art starts with the individual, but it doesn’t reach its peak until it’s in a community because of generosity. I like to use the metaphor of hunting. When you shoot a hare and come home with it, you have enough to eat and maybe you have enough to give to somebody else. After a while, you realize that it’s important not only that you eat, but that you can share with the community. That’s where you find joy. That’s the way art is.
For more on the The BMW 8 x Jeff Koons, please visit www.bmw.com/en/magazine/design/jeff-koons-x-bmw-8.