The Audemars Piguet Art Commission
Audemars Piguet explores connections between the arts and the craft of watchmaking
‘Synchronicity’, ‘Reconstruction of the Universe’ and ‘Slow-Moving Luminaries’ are three large-scale works under the Audemars Piguet Art Commission that have wowed audiences at Art Basel since 2015.
For each iteration of the commission, a guest curator is invited to scout for artists whose work is premised on complexity, precision and creativity, which are at the core of the Audemars Piguet heritage. The selected artists are then invited to the watchmaking company’s headquarters at Le Brassus, Vallée de Joux, Switzerland to immerse themselves in the environment to meet with the craftsmen. From there, they propose projects that Audemars Piguet then assists in bringing to fruition, including the provision of technical expertise. The realised projects are then showcased at Art Basel art fairs, of which Audemars Piguet has been an Associate Partner since 2013.
Audemars Piguet, established in 1875, is the only independent watchmaking manufacture still in the hands of its founding families, and it has continually innovated, with initiatives such as the art commission, to stay ahead of the game. Writing about what has surprised him in a book documenting Audemars Piguet’s endeavour to marry artmaking and watchmaking thus far, Olivier Audemars, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Audemars Piguet, notes that “contemporary artists are helping us evolve into a company better suited to face the challenges of a fast-changing world – a valuable outcome of our arts engagement that was completely unexpected”.
For the first Audemars Piguet commission, working with guest curator Marc-Olivier Wahler, Swiss artist and composer Robin Meier created ‘Synchronicity’, an immersive work within Volkshaus at Art Basel in Basel in June 2015. Under red growth-enhancing lights, the installation involved a myriad of elements, including thousands of fireflies, dozens of crickets, computers, metronomes and plants in a display of collective intelligence both natural occurring and artificial. A product of the artist’s ongoing fascination with self-organising systems, the walk-in environment mesmerised visitors with the harmonisation of disparate biological and technological elements into a coordinated visual and auditory beat.
In December 2016, for the second commission under guest curator Ruijun Shen, Chinese artist Sun Xun, known for his exploration of themes of history, memory, perception and metaphysics and his embracing of mediums both cutting edge and traditional, created ‘Reconstruction of the Universe’. A series of animated films was projected onto both flat and spherical surfaces, along with woodblock prints, under a beach-side open-air S-curve-shaped bamboo pavilion, also designed by the artist.
At the heart of the installation was the ten-minute 3-D stop-animation work, ‘Time Spy’ featuring animal-human hybrids, placed in imagined landscapes from outer space that are woven together with the artist’s memories of his homeland, as well as vignettes of Le Brassus. The film was a labour-intensive project made up of nearly 10,000 frames— each an individual woodcut— put together by a team of 100 under the direction of Sun. A shorter version of the work was later screened nightly in July 2017 at Times Square as part of Midnight Moment, the largest, longest-running (since 2012) digital art exhibition synchronised on electronic billboards in the New York from 11.57am to midnight every night, fulfilling the art commission’s objective of enabling works that live beyond the commission.
When asked what he learnt from the experience, Sun responded, “Before the commission, I had never made such a big project. I had never designed a pavilion. I had never made a film that mixed woodcut and 3-D animation. I had never shown a film outside in open air. I had no experience to prepare me. Echoing the benefits of the commission that Audemars noted for Audemars Piguet, Sun added that it has been advantageous for his practice, saying, “My approach was to try very carefully to see, to go to the each, to look for what might be possible. What I learnt is that nothing is impossible.”
For the 2017 commission, Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist Lars Jan developed an immersive, mechanised installation on the Miami Beach oceanfront with guest curator Kathleen Forde. The dual-level pavilion featured beach chairs and a reflecting pool on the upper deck. On the ground floor, from a lush garden, five large building-like sculptures representing high-rise buildings in urban centres rose up in unison every hour to the second floor through skylight apertures and back down again, creating a miniature skyline when viewed from a distance.
As centrepieces of the large-scale work, the sculptures were featured in a series of photographic lightboxes on the first floor and again in a video work on the second battling ferocious waves at the water’s edge, inviting visitors to consider the “cultural moment between civilisation and chaos”. The people themselves become performers who provide life and movement to the work.
Since 2013, Audemars Piguet has also engaged various artists and designers to work on its Collectors’ Lounge at Art Basel art fairs in Hong Kong, Basel and Miami Beach to complement the company’s showcase of their timepieces both historical and contemporary. In 2013, British photographer Dan Holdsworth, known for his large-scale photographs shot with long-duration exposures, presented panoramas of the Vallée de Joux. Others on the list include French art duo Kolkoz, Austrian videographer Kurt Hentschläger and Geneva-based artist Alexandre Joly.
In 2016, Audemars Piguet presented ‘To Break the Rules, You Must First Master Them’, an exhibition at Yuz Museum in Shanghai, which featured works of the art commission alumni including Holdsworth and Joly, with a then newly commissioned work, ‘Circadian Rhythm’ by Cheng Ran, an immersive video installation showing off Vallée de Joux’s verdant forest and gentle streams, set against an intricate soundscape of the peaceful Swiss Jura Mountains blending seamlessly with the precise mechanical ticks from the complicated mechanisms of Audemars Piguet watches. The works were housed in a circular installation by French designer Mathieu Lehanneur.
In the works is a state-of-the-art museum of horology at the Audemars Piguet headquarters in Le Brassus designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, building upon the existing Audemars Piguet museum that dates back to 1868. Due to open in Spring 2019, the extension, called ‘Maison des Fondateurs’, which features a spiraling form that will be integrated into the surrounding landscape, will host themed exhibitions and watchmaking workshops, and even a subterranean guest house to continue telling the Audemars Piguet story for generations to come.
This article was written for Art Republik 18.
More information at audemarspiguet.com.