Featured in
Frieze London 2021

Looking Back On Five Years of BMW Open Work

From the first commission by Olivia Erlanger in 2017 to this year's light installation by Madeline Hollander, BMW Open Work brings together arts, innovation, technology and design

in Collaborations , Frieze Week Magazine | 12 OCT 21

As the condition for visual perception, light is deeply intertwined with art. For artist Madeline Hollander, who trained as a ballet dancer, it is light as rhythm that fascinates: the way our days are circumscribed by the perpetual transition from light to dark to light again, as the earth moves around the sun. Her response to this phenomenon is at the heart of BMW Open Work commission, Sunrise/Sunset (2021), premiering at this year’s Frieze London. This is the fourth time that the brand has worked with an artist, alongside independent curator Attilia Fattori Franchini, to create a site-specific installation for the fair’s BMW Lounge. The initiative reflects the company’s professed commitment to the arts: this year they celebrate ‘50 years of cultural engagement’ in the brand’s words, with new programs such as JOYTOPIA, an online streaming platform, as well as collaborations with VR/AR platform Acute Art and podcast TalkArt.

Olivia Erlanger, 'Body Electric‘, 2017, exhibition view. Commissioned and produced for BMW Lounge, Frieze London 2017; courtesy: the artist, BMW and Frieze

‘Our vision is to bring together arts, innovation, technology and design’, explains Hedwig Solis Weinstein, Head of Brand Cooperations, Arts and Design, at BMW. ‘The name BMW Open Work was inspired by Umberto Eco’s 1962 essay, “Opera Aperta”, which is all about the importance of dialogue, and that’s exactly what drives this initiative: enabling inspiring conversations between artists and BMW experts.’

Every artist takes a different approach, drawing on the deep expertise of a different BMW department. For her commission, Hollander worked with engineers from the BMW recycling department to utilize, recycled headlights. ‘It is super-advanced technology,’ Franchini explains. ‘The lights react to the weather and conditions of the environment they are exposed to. They have a sensor that can detect the time of the day, how rainy or foggy it is. Wherever you are driving, these headlights respond.’

Sam Lewitt, 'CORE (the "Work")', 2018, exhibition view. Commissioned and produced for BMW Open Work, Frieze London 2018; courtesy: the artist, BMW and Frieze

In previous years, commissioned artists have worked with BMW in different ways. For the inaugural installation, Body Electric (2017) artist Olivia Erlanger worked with BMW technicians to create a responsive environment, including motion sensor and audio embedded in benches. Sam Lewitt’s CORE (the ‘Work’) (2018) investigated phases in the fabrication of BMW to explore intellectual property, by focusing on BMW motor technology and engine manufacturing. In 2019, Camille Blatrix’s installation Sirens saw him consider the desirability inherent with things, working with BMW Individual to create extreme levels of individualization and finish. ‘Every year, we have been on a different journey,’ Franchini enthuses.

This is not the first time Hollander has worked with the technology, creating a blinking light installation at Bortolami New York (‘Heads/Tails’, 2020) which synchronized with the traffic lights at the intersection outside of the gallery. For BMW Open Work, however, the artist has increased the complexity of her project, using 100 LED headlights to form a kind of map that reflects real-time data about the time of day, accompanied by a soundtrack created by the artist’s sister Celia Hollander. Sunrise/Sunset’s innate sense of dance-like movement also reflects the artist’s background in choreography, producing what Franchini describes will be ‘a complete dance of lights that moves slowly from left to right, east to west, throughout the day’.

Camille Blatrix, 'Sirens', 2019. Commissioned and produced for BMW Open Work, Frieze London 2019; courtesy: the artist, BMW and Frieze

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Hollander never made it to Munich in person, instead liaising remotely with BMW’s in-house teams. For the online Frieze London in 2020, she produced a digital version of Sunrise/Sunset that enabled viewers to navigate a map of lights that turned on and off depending on where daylight fell around the globe. Clicking on a single light brought up a 3D map of local roads taking in traffic data from live webcams. This sense of bewildering global scale of intricate activity will animate the installation on view at Frieze London, which is sure to have a dazzling effect in-person. ‘After the pandemic delayed the launch of the work for so long,’ notes Solis Weinstein, ‘we are so excited to finally see Sunrise/ Sunset live!’

Madeline Hollander’s commission for BMW Open Work is on view in the BMW Lounge at Frieze London from 13 –17 October 2021.

About the Partnership

Further information on BMW Open Work here

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, October 2021 under the headline 'Bright Young Things'

Main image: Madeline Hollander, Sunrise/Sunset study, 2020. Courtesy: the artist