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Hard Top

Author Jordan Heller Illustration Graham Roumieu


In the thriving artists’ community of Chaoyang, among the decommissioned military factories that are evidence of a former industrial era, a crowd surrounds a slate-gray BMW Z4 that appears to have sprung from the cobblestone street.

At first glance, the ashen sports car looks like the genuine article—albeit one with an unusual paint job. It is exact in detail, right down to the glass windows and the BMW logo on the hood. But upon closer inspection, the weight of the thing becomes apparent. The coupe, sculpted by Chinese artist Dai Yun, is composed of stone bricks, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

To add to the mystery surrounding the sculpture, Anni Ma, director of the Anniart Gallery, which represents Yun, covertly moved the petrified car outside and waited for passersby to notice it. “When I decided to put the BMW on the street, I expected people to be interested, but not this kind of fascination,” she says.

The roadster has also earned Yun more attention than expected. One visitor snapped pictures and posted them to a car enthusiast blog, and before long the Telegraph and The New York Times picked up the story.

For Yun, the work of art is no mere stunt, but a statement on civilization. “Brick was a popular building material our ancestors were familiar with in a farming society,” he says. “In contrast, the automobile is a symbol of industrialization and the modern way of life. I hope the combination of these two things may evoke people’s thoughts on the two different types of civilization.”

Whether the crowds have made that leap or are just imagining a new kind of gridlock, the car itself is a nod to the mother of transportation: The first wheel was made of the same material.

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