BMW art cars go digital in augmented reality anywhere, anytime with acute art

Jul 21, 2021

on the occasion of 50 years of BMW group cultural engagement, the ultimate collector’s garage that is the BMW art cars goes digital. acute art – london-based new technology enablers for art – visualizes the life-like automobiles in augmented reality, freely available on smartphone anywhere and any time. the new technology takes the artwork on the road, visible up mountains or simply in the comfort of your own home.

‘the acute art collaboration is able to explore technology at the service of the arts in an immersive way. BMW art cars in the virtual world are a natural progression of what it is that we at BMW strive for: being at the crossroads of design, technology, art, racing – and the future,’ tells thomas girst, global head of cultural engagement for the BMW group, in an exclusive interview with jacob de geer, CEO of acute art, and designboom.

‘as a company we always consider ourselves to be at the forefront of what constitutes design and technology, so the BMW art cars pay homage to that, and I would think that an exploration of the digital space is on our genes when it comes to the BMW art car series itself,’ continues thomas girst.

the journey for the BMW art cars began in 1975 when french racing driver hervé poulain commissioned american artist and friend alexander calder to paint his BMW racing car. since then, 19 prominent artists have followed suit but in their own creative interpretations – and different vehicle models. these include renowned names like john baldessari, olafur eliasson and jenny holzer to name but a few. each made extremely unique statements that are celebrated for reflecting cultural, historical progressions within art, design and technology.

‘I believe that teaming up with acute art is just a perfect match made in heaven. they had worked together with jeff koons and cao fei and other artists that we have collaborated with before,’ reveals thomas. ‘cao fei, the 18th BMW art car artist, already explored augmented and virtual realities when creating an app for her vehicle. the technology already was an integral part of the art car collection and its transformation towards the future.’

acute art collaborates with the world’s leading contemporary artists. they give access to cutting-edge technologies that allow them to translate creative visions into new digital mediums, including virtual (VR), augmented (AR) and mixed realities (MR). the BMW art cars were carefully scanned from all angles using a photogrammetry methodology. it captured every detail of the artists’ intervention on the vehicle’s surface, before being assembled digitally.

‘the art cars were carefully scanned using a sophisticated photogrammetry method ensuring all details were captured. the high resolution cameras capture the cars’ details from all angles and finally the cars are assembled to work in AR. if you place the AR version next to the physical original and make a photo, I doubt that you will be able to tell which one is which,’ claims jacob.

‘VR can be spectacular but you can only view the artwork through a headset, and that in itself limits the availability. AR on the other hand allows anyone with a mobile device to access the acute art app and therefore any of the BMW art cars. viewers can also place the cars wherever they want them, in the garden, on the roof or in the living room, if it is large enough. in a way, the viewer becomes a king of co-curator of the experience,’ clarifies the acute art CEO.

with acute art, the BMW art cars are entering the digital realm. the digital-rolling sculptures are available for everyone all around the world at any time – just hop on the free smartphone app. this means the artwork can virtually be staged in this wholly immersive 360-degree exhibition: indoors, outdoors and in the most unexpected locations.

‘AR has a democratizing potential in the sense that it can reach enormous audiences. as important as the size of the audience is perhaps the possibility to overcome geographical distances. in the future the BMW art cars can be placed anywhere and be seen by audiences everywhere. nobody has to travel, nothing needs to be shipped,’ adds jacob.

the vision of democratizing art is key to both BMW and acute art. the digitalization of the art car series brings the work to places where it could not be before. acute art proves how augmented reality makes entirely new exhibitions formats possible. gone are the days of quiet, single person museum visits; the new technologies create carefully curated, interactive experiences for group audiences. accessibility and engagement reaches new levels with the medium.

‘augmented reality is a medium that liberates art entirely from institutional contexts. we can install these works anywhere and anyone equipped with a smartphone can experience these works. we have produced AR experiences that have reached audiences that are much larger than that of any museum exhibition,’ remarks jacob de geer.

‘BMW always wants to reach as many people as possible not only to spread the message and the gospel of the brand, but to really make people participate in the arts, in culture,’ adds thomas. ‘lower the bar for access, but don’t water down the complexities. don’t add to the ‘bling-bling’ of the art market but create meaning and create something meaningful in a dialogue with artists. our acute art collaboration has been met with the same enthusiasm by many of the art car artists in the series because they have the same mission in terms of reaching out to a broad public to make their vision.’

on the launch on july 21st, 2021, viewers can experience a whole portfolio of cars, including alexander calder (BMW 3.0 CSL, 1975), michael jagamara nelson (BMW M3, 1989), ken done (BMW M3, 1989), matazo kayama (BMW 535i, 1990), esther mahlangu (BMW 525i, 1991), jeff koons (BMW M3 GT2, 2010) and john baldessari (BMW M6 GTLM, 2016). further renowned art cars will be integrated to the platform every two weeks.

‘can there be a virtual car in the future? certainly, I won’t rule anything out, primarily because any artist that is being chosen by an independent international panel of museum directors – they can do whatever they want to do. they are free, because we believe in freedom as the cornerstone of what is possible in the arts because it is as important for great masterpieces as it is for our designers and engineers to really come up with great cars. it’s this freedom of creativity, I think, that will lead the way towards the future of the art car series – wherever it may take us,’ concludes thomas girst.

project info:

brand: BMW group

cultural initiative: BMW art cars

collaborator: acute art

app: acute art