The Chinese declared 2009 to be the year of the Ox, while for the United Nations this was officially the Year of Astronomy. For the international art community, however, from New York to London via Paris, Dubai and Basel, 2009 belonged to another entity entirely: Audi.
Buffalo, stars and cars might seem like random dedications for an annum, but in the third case at least this was a meticulously planned campaign and had been in the pipeline for some time - 2009 was Audi’s centenary. Audi has spent the year fostering design culture and the arts like no other company in history, with serious presence at every art fair, a major centenary sculpture at Goodwood, and specially commissioned concepts including a $140,000 Bosendorfer piano.
Its considerable investment this year culminated last week in the launch of Audi’s new A8 sedan at Design Miami / Art Basel Miami Beach. The A8 is a pretty special new model for Audi. It deserved a fanfare and as we can testify, it got one.
While the dry ice and dramatic floodlights common to all major car reveals were very much in abundance, the launch event of the A8 was otherwise groundbreaking in a number of respects. Firstly, this wasn’t a motor show – Audi had chosen an art fair to make its biggest new car announcement in years. During a star-studded evening hosted by Lucy Liu and incorporating a staged debate on the meaning of art and design, at the Audi Pavilion, a temporary museum building on Miami Beach, the new A8 was surrounded by exhibits from the fabulous Rubell Family Collection, including a few select pieces by John Baldessari. A 130sq m bespoke lighting installation, Light Light, courtesy of Tom Dixon, was inspired by the new model.
The A8 is the 2010 edition of Audi’s flagship sedan. According to Rupert Stadler, chairman of the board of management at Audi, “Our aim was to get as close as possible to the perfect automobile.” Keeping close to the heritage of the sedan family the car is an impressive evolution of the outgoing model that incorporates several technological firsts for the car marque including full LED headlamps which work in tandem with the navigational system to automatically adjust their throw and direction; and a reduction of 20% in its fuel consumption thanks to its super light aluminium spaceframe. Sitting lower despite being longer and wider than most other cars in this sector, it is also particularly powerful, with an updated 4.2litre FSI V8 engine giving 372 horsepower, and an 8-speed Tiptronic gearbox.
Audi is especially proud of the MMI (multimedia interface) on the car, which has a touchpad and handwriting recognition as well as the usual navigation system – this means the driver can enter the destination on the screen by writing with their finger.
The central brand message behind the A8 is The Art of Progress. The link up between Audi and the Arts is successful because where other brands jump on the creative industries bandwagon in the cynical hope that some of the cool will rub off on them, Audi has always had design at its core. As Dixon told Wallpaper at one point: “Audi maintains a proximity between the designers and the manufacturing process that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else – the engineers and designers are sitting on top of each other… how else can a company of this size so successfully manage to innovate.”
The results of Audi’s considerable investment in art and design this year can now be reviewed. We see a bolstered creative industry, a host of special commissions, and lets not forget exactly who the brand has managed to get in front of in 2009. In Stadler’s words: “There are 5 or 6,000 art collectors coming to Miami this week from all over the world. We want to be the number one brand in their perception.”