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At New York’s Frieze Art Fair, BMW sounds off

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After careers as a classroom teacher, preschool director and fiction writing professor, Brett now writes about the two subjects on which people are least interested in receiving advice from a childless gay man: kids and cars. Visit him at or follow him on Twitter at @StickShift_VF.


BMW has a 40-year history of supporting institutions and people who create contemporary art. For proof, one need look no further than the company’s Art Cars – a series of 17 vehicles, dating to the mid-1970s, with paint jobs created by some of the world’s most famous artists, including Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.

For the second year running, the Bavarian automaker is a core sponsor of the Frieze Art Fair New York, a New World offshoot of the famed London fete. And to commemorate the event, which opened 10 May, BMW provided an interesting twist on the Art Car concept. Instead of asking an artist to create a work on the outside of a BMW model, the company provided grants to three sound artists for the creation of works on the inside of a car — or in this case, 40 of them, a fleet of 7-Series sedans that shuttled VIPs to and from the four-day fair.

What are the rules for creating an automotive sound art installation? “My main goal was to create something that people didn’t want to immediately turn off,” said artist Charlie Atlas, who created a piece with duo New Humans (Mika Tajima and Howie Chen). “So I wanted it to be … not annoying.”

A compelling sound art installation, say connoisseurs of the genre, should be like kissing your grandmother: although it is best to be brief, it is important to create the impression of communicating something meaningful. By this standard, Atlas’ mesmerising piece – as well as those by Trisha Baga and Haroon Mirza – were profoundly successful, playing en route to the fair as the driver weaved through hideous Manhattan traffic. Admittedly however, experiencing such aural art installations from the plush back seat of BMW’s flagship sedan, via the 16 speakers of its Bang & Olufsen audio system, is a rare introduction to sound art, and enough make an aficionado out of the most uninitiated listener.