In the late 2000s, when the artist Jeff Koons was asked to design a BMW Art Car, he considered three concepts. “I made Plan A, Plan B and Plan C,” Mr. Koons said.
Since its establishment in 1975, the Art Car program has commissioned blue-chip artists — including Andy Warhol, Jenny Holzer, Robert Rauschenberg and Cao Fei — to create one-off iterations of a BMW vehicle, museum-quality pieces that are displayed or raced. The racecar that Mr. Koons unveiled in 2010 featured a windswept riot of brightly colored streaks. This design, he said, was Plan B.
Plan C did not maintain Mr. Koons’s interest, so he discarded it. But Plan A remained with him. “I wanted to make a car that, when it drove by, would go pop-pop-pop,” he said.
Now, a dozen years later, he has brought that vision to life with the 8 by Jeff Koons, a limited edition of 99 specially designed and outfitted versions of BMW’s swoopy, four-door, 8-Series Gran Coupe sports sedan. This car was unveiled, virtually, on Wednesday in connection with the Frieze Los Angeles art fair, for which BMW is an official partner. In the United States, each example will cost $350,000.
BMW has had success with similar limited editions, including an intended (pandemic-interrupted) run of 500 M2 sports coupes designed by the artist Lenny McGurr, who is known as Futura, and a series of 150 M4 Competition sports coupes created with Ronnie Fieg of the streetwear brand Kith.
As one of the world’s best-known living artists, Mr. Koons lends cachet to the offering. “It’s good marketing for the company,” said Linda Yablonsky, an art critic and author of a coming biography of Mr. Koons. “But Jeff himself is really an evangelist for art. He wants to see art in everyone’s life. It doesn’t have to be his own, but he wants everybody to connect to art in some way because he believes it will do for them what it does for him — enhance their lives.”
Discussions between BMW and Mr. Koons on production of a limited-edition vehicle for sale to the public date back more than a decade. But it was unclear what form this collaboration might take.
“I thought it was going to be one of these balloon dog-colored cars — bright yellow, bright red, bright blue,” said Thomas Girst, BMW’s head of cultural engagement, referring to the artist’s signature high-gloss sculptures, executed in gleaming polished stainless steel.
Mr. Koons had a different idea in mind. “I started by working with kind of a rectangular design that became this kind of whoosh of air that I’ve incorporated, this emphasis of power. And I use other visual ways of communicating energy and velocity, and that excitement of movement,” he said.
Yet the bold linear graphics, bright colors, and animated stars and explosions aren’t just superficial peacocking. “When I drive by and somebody says, ‘Hey, look at that,’ it’s not just about feathers being spread,” Mr. Koons said. “They see something that’s very visceral, and it’s visual.”
The design conveys a sense of vibrant emotionality, a fascination rooted in delight and joy. This sensibility carries over into the interior, with its harlequin-like arrangement of contrasting colors and textures, all chosen by Mr. Koons.
The finishes are labor intensive. The paint on each car requires an 11-step process, including hand-painting. According to BMW, it is the most complex paint job ever rendered on one of its series production road cars, taking 300 hours to execute for each vehicle. (During one of Mr. Koons’s supervisory visits to the factory, according to Mr. Girst, the paint shop workers asked him to sign their atomizer. “And he did,” Mr. Girst said.)
Mr. Koons has experimented with similar concepts, on a very different vehicle. “It’s a bit like the paint job he gave the Guilty, a yacht he designed for the Greek collector Dakis Joannou,” Ms. Yablonsky said. “Jeff based it on World War I, razzle-dazzle ship camouflage and combined that with a kind of homage to Roy Lichtenstein, one of his artistic heroes,” she continued.
“So the bright colors of this car, and the exploding, cartoonlike Pop graphics, are very much in keeping with his art,” she said. “And certainly, like Jeff himself, it’s very optimistic.” She added, “I’d be curious to see how it looks in motion.”
Soon, Ms. Yablonsky, and other New Yorkers, will have this wish granted. In late March, Mr. Koons is scheduled to drive an 8 by Jeff Koons through Manhattan, dropping the car off at Rockefeller Center, where it will be on display from March 31 until April 4. At the end of the exhibition, this car will be auctioned off by Christie’s, with the proceeds donated to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a charity Mr. Koons has frequently supported.
As a means of introducing the car to collectors around the world, further premieres are planned this spring and summer (without Mr. Koons) in the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Belgium, China, France and England.
“There’s already a lot of demand in the market, so we are confident of this car selling out, really quick,” Mr. Girst said.
Mr. Koons will also receive his own 8 by Jeff Koons. He said he looked forward to driving the car “in New York, and from New York to Pennsylvania,” where he maintains a weekend house — his grandfather’s farm.
This will be a significant change from his usual ride. Because Mr. Koons has eight children, and often travels with them, their friends, his wife and a nanny, he typically drives a 13-passenger Mercedes van.
“My kids say, ‘Dad, you should get yourself a sports car,’” he said. “But I like to be with my family. I have joy being with them.” As the 8-Series Gran Coupe has four seats, it will lend itself to such togetherness. “So I’ve ended up with the sports car that I can see myself driving,” he said.
Does this vehicle rise to the level of art? “It’s a car envisioned by an artist,” Ms. Yablonsky said. “But it’s still a car. A functional object. Most art doesn’t function as anything but art.”
BMW and Mr. Koons remain open to future cooperation. “I think the story with Jeff is definitely an ongoing one,” Mr. Girst said. “The future is certainly electric, so why not, without making any promises, why not explore this further? There are certainly new challenges moving forward with design for electric cars, and new ways for artists to assist in tackling these challenges.”