It’s been a couple of weeks since a retrospective celebrating the work of Ove Arup opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. ‘Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design’ runs until November and looks at the work of a man whose work crossed disciplines and included the iconic Sydney Opera House.
The exhibition is the latest at the museum to be supported by Volkswagen, which says its supports for the V&A represents “a key element of the Group’s international commitment for the arts and culture through which Volkswagen endeavours to make art accessible to as many people as possible.” The company even has a Head of Cultural Engagement working within its Volkswagen Group Communications department.
VW is far from alone in involving itself in the arts in ways that go beyond mere sponsorship. Indeed, there’s always been a close relationship between the automotive world and that of arts and architecture.
A surprising number of car designers trained as architects, including Robert Opron, creator of wonders such as the Alfa Romeo SZ and the Citroën CX, SM and GS; and Ferrari’s chief designer Flavio Manzoni – who was also responsible for the revived Fiat 500.
BMW’s Art Car Project/Collection introduced a long-running series of the German manufacturer’s racing and production models painted by the likes of Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Jeff Koons and Roy Lichtenstein. Artists Cao Fei and John Baldessari are creating the next two vehicles for the series.
The BMW Group says, “For almost 50 years… [it] has initiated and engaged in over 100 cultural cooperations worldwide. The company places the main focus of its long-term commitment on contemporary and modern art, classical music and jazz as well as architecture and design.” This includes the ‘BMW Tate Live’ series of performances.
Sharing a keen interest in the Tate with BMW is Hyundai, whose involvement in this arena has ramped up significantly in the last few years. Its huge 11-year deal with the art institution is one of the biggest, involving commissions for the enormous Turbine Hall, and follows long-term involvement with Milan Design Week (Salone del Mobile), which has also involved large-scale installations.
We’re now increasingly seeing this trend also moving in the other direction, with car designers (and their brands) dabbling in interiors of buildings. Of course, this cross-disciplinary work is nothing new – and perhaps it was epitomised by the prolific Raymond Loewy, whose extensive body of work included numerous car exteriors as well interiors for cars, railway carriages and Air France’s Concorde.
At last year’s Milan Design Week, Ford’s designers showcased their skills through products that included furniture, while BMW, MINI and Lexus partnered with product designers Alfredo Häberli, Jaime Hayon and Philippe Nigro. Bentley already offers the Bentley Home Collection of furniture, while Mercedes-Benz has gone further, saying it will unveil luxury hotel apartments in London.
As cars become increasingly autonomous (we may need to re-think our use of the term ‘mobile device’), they will also in theory become safer and safer, giving those who design them ever-greater freedom – blurring the lines between the spaces we utilise inside buildings and those we utilise inside vehicles.
Perhaps the recent ‘VISION NEXT 100’ concept vehicle from Rolls-Royce, which is fully autonomous, best demonstrates the freedom that lies ahead for automotive designers. The company calls the car’s interior “The Grand Sanctuary… [which] envelop[s] in uninterrupted silence and luxury.”