Andy Warhol’s rarely seen Mercedes paintings will divide opinion—again
Artists and cars have never had the best of relationships, but plenty have dabbled, and plenty of onlookers have been divided over whether a painting of a car, or indeed actually painting a car or working with it in a sculptural context, can ever be considered true art.
“Business artist” and Pop Art icon Andy Warhol, however, went further than most artists when it comes to having a relationship with the car. Many can recall the BMW M1 he was given to paint in 1979, followed by other BMW Art Cars from artists Roy Liechtenstein and Jeff Koons—but fewer remember the private commission from art dealer Hans Meyer to celebrate the centenary of the Benz Patent Motor Wagen, in 1986.
The collection that resulted, “Cars”, ordered by Mercedes itself after it saw that first work—of a 300 SL “Gullwing”, produced from a photograph—was intended to chronicle the significant models throughout its history. Though it remained unfinished at the time of Warhol’s death, Mercedes kept the 36 silkscreen prints and 13 drawings of eight iconic Benzes, displaying the whole collection on rare occasions. Warhol had planned to cover 20 models through 80 pieces of art.
Selected works from “Cars” are to be shown at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles from July 23, including the W125 “Silver Arrow” Grand Prix Car, as driven by Bernd Rosemeyer. Other models involved the 35hp of 1901 and the C111 supercar from which a record breaking diesel prototype was developed.
It’s been more than a decade since “Cars” has been seen in any capacity; Mercedes kept the works as part of its corporate art collection and has displayed them three times in total: once in Tübingen, Germany, in 1988, partially in Milton Keynes, England, in 2001, and in full at the Albertina in Vienna, Austria, nine years later.
While Warhol was criticized by his peers, “Cars” was a notable high point in automotive art cross-overs; while worthy, the Citroën Xsara Picasso never quite left the same legacy.
If you happen to be in L.A. this month, this is a rare opportunity to see some of Warhol’s most divisive work.