A BMW Art Car à la Frank Stella
by jennifer demeritt
The Frank Stella BMW M1 Art Car is on display at BMW of Southampton
The term “museum-quality” is bandied about by collectors of all sorts of things: artwork, antiques, even rare or vintage cars. In the case of the Frank Stella BMW M1 Art Car, purchased in 2011 by Jonathan Sobel, the term is no exaggeration. Before it was put on the auction block at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the car, which is painted with Stella’s “Polar Coordinates” design, was in the Guggenheim’s permanent collection. When Sobel heard that this extraordinary car, the only one of 18 BMW Art Cars not owned by BMW, was coming onto the market, he made his move. Now it sits proudly in his BMW of Southampton showroom, where car aficionados and art lovers are welcome to admire it.
Other BMW Art Cars feature designs by Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and other renowned artists. All were commissioned by BMW and now reside in the company’s museum in Munich. The one exception is the Frank Stella “Polar Coordinates” car, which was commissioned for professional race car driver Peter Gregg in 1979. Gregg raced the car competitively for several years, and Sobel describes it as a “3-D movable sculpture,” with viewers able to see different perspectives of the car’s linear pattern as it zoomed around the racetrack.
The Guggenheim’s purchase of the car was a testament to its enduring artistic value. Maintaining it, however, proved to be a challenge. “Even if you don’t drive a car regularly,” Sobel explains, “you have to replace the battery, rotate the tires, and drive it now and then to keep it in good condition.” The museum, he adds, “was not equipped to do that.”
The art car makes a choice trophy and a smart business investment for Sobel, as it draws people to his BMW showroom. It also reflects his long-standing patronage of the arts. He sits on the boards the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Public Art Fund, and his personal collection of contemporary art includes several works by Stella. 759 County Road 39A, Southampton, 877-885-1388