Swiss Haute Horlogerie Manufacture Audemars Piguet has partnered with Art Basel annually since 2013, presenting installations by leading contemporary artists in each of the fair’s locations: Hong Kong, Basel and, perhaps most atmospherically, under the Floridian sun for Art Basel Miami Beach.
This year, we sat down with vice chairman of the Board of Directors Olivier Audemars, to discuss his personal approach to the Miami fair; Audemars Piguet’s new work with Berlin-based artist Tomás Saraceno for Aerocene; and the environmental commitment of the Audemars Piguet Foundation.
Wallpaper*: Working with visionary artists and designers is a key aspect of Audemars Piguet’s Art Basel experience – including Robin Meier in 2015, Sun Xun in 2016, Lars Jan last year, and now Tomás Saraceno. How do you select whom you will be working with each year?
Olivier Audemars: Being involved with the art world is very important to us. It helps us to challenge our own perceptions. I can honestly say that without its artistic involvements, Audemars Piguet wouldn’t be what it is today. To allow yourself to be challenged, is to allow yourself to be surprised. For this reason, when selecting our Art Basel artists, we use a commissioning panel of experts, including directors of museums and curators, and we try not to interfere with the selection process. Having this distance is the only way to be surprised, and challenged, by the outcome. All we ask is that the artists’ focus resonates with subjects that interest us: complexity, precision, nature, and science.
W*: Audemars Pigeut commissioned Tomás Saraceno’s new sustainable, site-specific installation Albedo, which was unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach on the oceanfront sandlot across from Collins Park. What initially drew you to Saraceno’s practice?
OA: Four or five years ago during Berlin Gallery Weekend, (which Audemars Piguet also partners with), I was introduced to Saraceno’s gallerist, Esther Schipper. She was exhibiting a few pieces of his work, including his spider web-inspired Cloud Cities, and some smaller pieces also based on the architecture of webs. I was fascinated. There was one piece that especially struck me; I asked if it was possible to buy it – unfortunately it was already sold. Over the next two years, I got to know the people from the gallery, and eventually purchased one of Saraceno’s works. So during the Berlin Gallery Weekend this year, the gallerist invited me to visit the artist’s Berlin workshop. Despite being busy with his then-upcoming Palais de Tokyo exhibition On Air [on view until January 2019], Saraceno was able to dedicate time to our commission. What’s interesting about someone like Tomás is that he is able to work on many things at once, with the same focus on each.
W*: How does Albedo reflect Audemars Piguet’s ethos and design principles, in particular, that of the Audemars Piguet Foundation?
OA: Saraceno’s installation centres around the Aerocene Foundation, [an interdisciplinary artistic endeavour that aims to achieve an ethical collaboration with the atmosphere and the environment]. This concept strongly resonated with us, and is ultimately why we decided to do this project together. The Audemars Piguet Foundation – [which has been contributing to the cause of worldwide forest conservation through environmental protection and youth awareness-raising endeavours since 1992] is similarly interested in finding ways to collaborate with nature – not to stop human activity, but for humans and nature to engage fruitfully. This notion of preserving fragile elements for our own good is at the heart of what we believe. In that respect, I think what Tomás is doing – taking inspirations from nature, and using his thinking process to have a positive impact on the planet and on the mind – aligns with our own thinking.
W*: Do you think you share an aesthetic ethos, too?
OA: When you look at an installation like Albedo, it’s not necessarily meant to be beautiful from an aesthetic point of view, it’s meant to use solar energy to impact change. Nonetheless, the final result is beautiful. This idea also occurs in mechanical watches. The base is something made to tell the time, but the architectural component has its own aesthetic. Audemars Piguet and Tomás Saraceno both share this idea that beautiful things can, at the same time, be useful things. That’s why there is such a close relationship between artist and artisan.
W*: Tell us about the other artists Audemars Piguet has worked with for this year’s fair.
OA: Davide Quayola – one of the first artists we worked with when becoming involved in the contemporary art world in 2012 – has created a photographic work based on the Vallée de Joux. It abstractly asks: ‘What is reality?’ Let me relate this to watches. The basic way to read a watch is to watch it. Look at its face, and you’ll have the time. You also have watches that have a striking mechanism and you can listen to the time. You can hear the time in the darkness, experiencing reality differently. Quayola has done something similar with his images of the Vallée de Joux, which beautifully use new technologies of 4k drone filming to question aspects of the Vallée’s reality. I can’t stop looking at his work. The third artist is Sebastian Errazuriz, who has designed our Collectors’ Lounge in the fair, for the third year. The first edition was about snow and ice (something close to our heart, coming from the Vallée de Joux); the second was about the human impact on forestry. This year, he focuses on forgery and the iron ore, the natural resource at the heart of steel and one of the principal resources for watchmakers.
W*: Which aspects of Art Basel Miami Beach do you particularly look forward to?
OA: I’m never looking for something specific. I always try to keep my five senses as open as possible, because Art Basel is an opportunity to be surprised, shocked or unsettled.
Whether in Miami, Basel and Hong Kong, Art Basel is a way to meet artists from different parts of the world. For example, in Miami, you encounter artists from Cuba, California, and Mexico. From their work, you can gain a greater understanding of their own environments. Through the discussions you have, you understand their reality on a different level than through economic or political reports. When I’m coming to places like this, I’m always looking forward to learning more.