As a global as­so­ciate part­ner of Art Basel, Aude­mars Piguet now has a pres­ence at all three edi­tions of one of the world's pre­em­i­nent art fairs. So how has the Le Bras­sus-based brand made the tran­si­tion into the art world? El­iz­a­beth Do­err looks for an­swe

Plaza Watch International - - Contents - WO R D S E L I Z A B E T H D O E R R

Au­d­er­mars Piguet seal their place in the art world as global part­ner of Art Basel.

It was Olivier Aude­mars, vice-pres­i­dent of the board and a mem­ber of the Piguet fam­ily, who re­minded me of the say­ing, ‘the only things that grow in the Val­lée de Joux are stones and rocks’. This val­ley, sit­u­ated be­tween Geneva and Switzer­land’s Jura, is wild, almost vi­o­lent, in its harsh nat­u­ral beauty.

Can such a se­vere en­vi­ron­ment be the birth­place for art? In a word, yes. Aude­mars goes on to ex­plain how as he pulls a mid­sized, orange-and-grey coloured stone from his pocket. We sit in a well-de­signed VIP area of what is known as the ‘sand­lot’, a beach­front lo­ca­tion be­long­ing to Art Basel Mi­ami that is lo­cated – where else? – on the beach.

“This looks like an old rusty rock be­cause that's ex­actly what it is,” Aude­mars, who is the great- grand­son of company co- founder Ed­ward Au­gust Piguet, says with earnest dead­pan. “And rust is the ox­ide of iron. So what [our an­ces­tors] did was use the wood from the for­est as a ther­mal source of en­ergy to build ma­chines to ex­tract this rust and trans­form it into iron. As it was a long process, and the quan­ti­ties were limited, they had to spe­cialise in mak­ing small ob­jects with a high added value.”

By small ob­jects he means, of course, watch com­po­nents and time­pieces, the first of which were made us­ing iron.

Which be­gins the his­tory of ar­ti­sans mak­ing horo­log­i­cal art in the re­mote Val­lée de Joux, of­ten closed off from the rest of civ­i­liza­tion for the du­ra­tion of the win­ter months.

But, back to the rocks, Art Basel Mi­ami, and art. How does this all fit to­gether again?

As a spon­sor of the cul­tural event tak­ing place in trop­i­cal south Florida, the brand has a “booth” lo­cated in the col­lec­tor’s lounge along­side the other spon­sors within the con­ven­tion cen­tre. This acts as the fair's cen­tral lo­ca­tion hous­ing bil­lions of dol­lars worth of pre­cious paint­ings, draw­ings, sketches and sculp­tures. Em­pha­siz­ing its com­mit­ment to this visual world, Aude­mars Piguet went so far as to hire two artists to work on con­cepts for the booth, which also func­tions as a show­place for watches and meet­ing point for friends and clients of the brand. The idea be­hind hir­ing the artists was to en­able the brand to ex­press who it is and where it comes from in a way that be­fits such an event.

The first is Kurt Hentschläger, a Chicagob­ased, Aus­trian-born audio-visual artist, who cre­ated a panoramic video in­stal­la­tion for the booth, shot in the Val­lée de Joux, called

Mea­sure. Mea­sure’s theme cen­tres on the na­ture preva­lent in Le Bras­sus, and asks the ques­tion as to whether “orig­i­nal na­ture” can still ex­ist in the age of hu­man in­flu­ence.

French de­signer Mathieu Le­han­neur is the sec­ond artist in­volved in the artis­tic vi­su­als of the Aude­mars Piguet booth. Le­han­neur made the trip to Le Bras­sus, and re­mained for an ex­tended pe­riod to bet­ter un­der­stand both the tra­di­tional brand and its re­mote Val­lée de Joux sur­round­ings.

It was the rocks that Le­han­neur found of ut­most im­por­tance in un­der­stand­ing the ori­gins of the Swiss brand’s art Like Olivier Aude­mars, who said, “We asked Mathieu Le­han­neur to come and spend some time in the Val­lée de Joux, to walk and to try to ex­press what for him was the quin­tes­sence of Le Bras­sus. This idea of the rocks came, so, ba­si­cally, he used the same tech­nique that palaeon­tol­o­gists use to get prints…”

In­stead of ex­port­ing a few of the large rocks – boul­ders, ac­tu­ally – from the Val­lée de Joux to Mi­ami Beach, Le­han­neur took sil­i­con moulds of ac­tual boul­ders he found in the re­mote Swiss val­ley, and recre­ated them in his Paris stu­dio us­ing crushed stone pow­der mixed with resin. This process also al­lowed the rocks to be hol­low mak­ing them not only sig­nif­i­cant but a prac­ti­cal ad­di­tion to the stand, like as a dis­play back­ground for iPads.

“This re­tains the DNA of the rocks,” says Le­han­neur. Le Bras­sus is a tiny place set in the midst of a strong and vi­o­lent na­ture. I tried to show the con­trast, the bal­ance be­tween the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of the items Aude­mars Piguet cre­ates and the vi­o­lence of the na­ture it is sur­rounded by.”

“I think, if you spend time enough to let

“Aude­mars Piguet has ex­tended its in­volve­ment from solely be­ing a spon­sor of the Art Basel fair to ac­tively tak­ing part in the world of art by choos­ing one con­tem­po­rary artist per year to support.”

those two artists ‘en­ter’ you, then you can un­der­stand what it is to live in the Val­lée de Joux and why peo­ple started to make those ob­jects,” Aude­mars con­tin­ues. “It may also link to some­thing else, which is the rea­son why we de­cided to be in­volved in con­tem­po­rary arts: in the past there were no clear dif­fer­en­ti­a­tions be­tween artist and ar­ti­san; only after Michelan­gelo was this ‘split.’ The ar­ti­san made beau­ti­ful ob­jects with a func­tional util­ity, and artists were peo­ple mak­ing ob­jects or things that pleased the mind. So now, if you take the com­pli­cated watch, we are back to this cross­road, be­cause what makes it spe­cial is that peo­ple with ex­treme skills are able to cre­ate a very small vol­ume of an ex­tremely com­pli­cated prod­uct. You also want it to be as beau­ti­ful as pos­si­ble.”

Aude­mars went on to ex­plain that as the company re­fined its com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies, it searched out a field that would at the same time aid the company in con­tin­u­ing to evolve with new con­cepts. And, thus, Aude­mars Piguet has ex­tended its in­volve­ment from solely be­ing a spon­sor of the Art Basel fair to ac­tively tak­ing part in the world of art by choos­ing one con­tem­po­rary artist per year to support.

Head­ing back to the “sand­lot” lo­cated across from Mi­ami Beach’s Collins Park, right next to the ul­tra-hip W Ho­tel, one en­coun­tered the artist’s “lair” that Aude­mars Piguet spon­sored this year. Theo Jansen is rel­a­tively high pro­file in the art world, and has been mak­ing head­lines for close to a decade with YouTube videos and tele­vi­sion re­ports of what seem to the unini­ti­ated to be cool ki­netic struc­tures. When you get to know Jansen bet­ter, though, you un­der­stand that his Strand­beests are far more than lo­co­mo­tive art; they are ex­am­ples of “life forms” and they are the re­sult of years of study of physics, the­ol­ogy, phi­los­o­phy and even ro­bot­ics.

The Dutch artist’s “beach an­i­mals” (the lit­eral trans­la­tion of “Strand­beests”) are made of yel­low plas­tic PVC tub­ing, while their en­ergy comes from the wind. Jansen com­pares the cre­ation of his “an­i­mals” to the work of a watch­maker when you ask him about their in­spi­ra­tion long enough. The dis­cus­sion is com­pletely philo­soph­i­cal, of course. This com­par­i­son is known as the “watch­maker anal­ogy,” and it is an ac­cepted philo­soph­i­cal metaphor for cor­re­lat­ing evo­lu­tion and a com­pli­cated watch: tele­o­log­i­cal ar­gu­men­ta­tion states that the com­plex­ity of the watch’s move­ment ne­ces­si­tates an in­tel­li­gent de­signer. It stands for the com­plex­ity of a given nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena. In this case: evo­lu­tion.

Su­per­fi­cially, the me­chan­i­cal na­ture of the Strand­beests al­ready makes the an­swer to the ques­tion of why Aude­mars Piguet has cho­sen to support Jansen fairly ob­vi­ous and log­i­cal. It takes a bit of dig­ging, though, to find the deeper philo­soph­i­cal mean­ings that Jansen’s work moves within. Both el­e­ments com­bined make him a per­fect choice: spec­tac­u­lar, me­chan­i­cal, philo­soph­i­cal beauty all rolled up in the tal­ents of a man who is both artist and ar­ti­san in the broader sense of both words.

For­tu­itously, Aude­mars Piguet has cho­sen not to make a limited edi­tion wrist­watch cel­e­brat­ing its spon­sor­ship of ei­ther Art Basel or Jansen, al­low­ing the part­ner­ships to sink into the art world in just the right sort of way. This doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t hap­pen in the fu­ture, but for now, the brand is con­cen­trat­ing on see­ing the part­ner­ships set­tle and gel.

A quick pe­rusal of ran­dom wrists saun­ter­ing past me at the fair, how­ever, shows that the strat­egy seems to pay­ing off: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a large gath­er­ing of Aude­mars Piguet mod­els “in the wild” be­fore. Could this be co­in­ci­dence? Or an evolved sense of style in Mi­ami Beach?

“What is im­por­tant in a me­chan­i­cal watch is not the ma­te­rial it­self, it is the in­ge­nu­ity that has been put into it,” Olivier Aude­mars says, sum­ming up the con­nec­tions that bridge time, space, and – of course – art. And this seems to be un­der­stood among art lovers now, who wel­come this lit­tle patch of Le Bras­sus to the sunny world of Mi­ami Beach Art Basel.

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