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Artist Cao Fei paints ribbons of light around the race car with VR.

The BMW Art Car project is one of the more curious ventures of the automotive world, bringing race cars and world-famous artists together.

The art car collaborations began in 1975 when Alexander Calder of giant mobile fame painted a BMW 3.0 CSL in his trademark bright colors. Since then, artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons have all lent their talents to the automaker and used its cars as blank canvases.

This year, the 18th BMW art car takes the concept in a new direction. The BMW M6 GT3 looks like a completely normal race car, possibly even a test mule, finished in matte black. However, Chinese artist Cao Fei uses augmented virtual reality to paint dazzling halos of light around the car when viewed through a special app.

The idea was inspired by a tradition some Chinese people practice in which objects are blessed for luck and safety. Cao also wanted to represent rapid changes to society in China and beyond, with the coming age of autonomous objects and digitization. It took Cao three years to research the project, during which she visited BMWs headquarters and factories numerous times.

This is not the first time a BMW Art Car has deviated from Calder's paint-on-exterior concept. In 2009, Robin Rhode used a Z4 to paint a blank canvas with its tires. Cao's M6 GT3 will race at the FIA FT World Cup in Macau in November.