ArtBasel is an international modern art show that has been going on since the early 1970s. The show includes editions in Hong Kong, Miami Beach, Florida and Basel, Switzerland. Having attended ArtBasel in the past I was aware of the breath and scope of what to expect.
It’s literally the place to showcase and buy modern art. Think of it as a giant organized and upscale bazaar with booths from all the major and minor art galleries around the world, ready to show and sell to the over 100 of thousands who made the trip to usually sunny and glitzy Miami Beach for three days.
This year I was attending primarily to see the special collaborations that Audemars Piguet (AP) is unveiling in Miami Beach. AP had two main art collaborations for ArtBasel, and in this post I will talk about the first one. In a subsequent post I will also cover the other. First a brief recap of my previous time at ArtBasel in Miami Beach four years ago.
AP partnered then with Dutch artist Theo Jansen, sponsoring and demonstrating the Strandbeests project. This was essentially an elaborated set of walkable sculptures shaped as “strange beasts”, built out of PVC tubes and brought to life with the power of the wind. The whole thing was a hit and travelled around the globe. The connection of Strandbeests with AP was obvious, even to those not in the know about mechanical watches.
Here was a set of movable sculptures that captured the energy of the wind and released it to create motion. Fundamentally not unlike a watch’s mechanical movement. Releasing somehow “bottle up” potential energy to create motion. This year’s collaboration at the “AP beach” (as I like to call the location AP has used between 21st and 22nd street, to show its art during ArtBasel) was not so straightforward.
As as I arrived a few minutes before the start of the demonstration and follow-up press conference, what I could see was a collection of what looked like large umbrellas with a black outer shell and a silver inner. Each had attached to it, large fishing poles and to complete the beach feel, under the umbrellas were convertible beach seats ready for you to lay down. What was this all about? I was soon about to find out and see it live.
While the day started super sunny, the sky became cloudier as the time of the demonstration approached and I made my way to the event. People started to gather and 30 minutes in, after an initial delay, the folks from the Aerocene project started discussing and explaining the elaborated contraption as the press conference started, skipping the live demonstration.
Turns out the installation is a live sustainable sun-powered beach art project that allows the participants to cook food, blow a ballon, do art, and relax in the shades, by simply using the power of the sun. As the sun was not cooperating, the creators had to explain the mechanism to us instead.
The various silver umbrellas are designed to allow the participants to concentrate the light from the sun in a central location to help collect the energy and power solar cells that can then be used to charge batteries and generate the necessary energy to cook the food and create a set of dancing inflatable statues.
Named Albedo, which is defined as “the measure of the diffuse reflection of solar radiation out of the total solar radiation received by an astronomical body”, it is the latest incarnation and part of long-term research project named Aerocene. And this itself a part of the Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno’s grand ecological vision, who’s research group is looking into how humans can be better live self-sustained and sufficient alternative lifestyles by reusing and leveraging the energy of nature around them.
Audemars Piguet’s connection with this project is also not hard to understand once you realize where AP is based and how important the Vallée de Joux has been to the history of the fable manufacture. Winka Antelrath, the art curator for the project, explained that AP uses these types of art projects to find inspirations and help them connect with the environments all around their manufacture that has been so crucial to their success and long history.
Furthermore, AP’s CEO François-Henry Bennahmias introduced the project to explain the bigger picture of AP’s goal in sponsoring such far reaching and long-term projects. He was quick to remind us that the manufacture can take a far reaching view of the world. As one of the few remaining independent watch manufactures in the world, AP can march to its own drumbeat and sponsor or participate in projects that don’t necessarily need to show results and value immediately.
The Aerocene project is a perfect combination of ecological research who’s vision is grand yet hardly immediately practical, as we could see on the day of the unveiling since the sun decided not to cooperate. It’s the kind of projects that blend perfectly into AP’s own long-term vision. And while we could not see it live, at the party in the evening and when I returned the next day to interview Olivier Audemars, I got to taste some of the grilled vegetable that was cooked with Albedo. A tasty, not too spicy, concoction of peppers and natural spices and other veggies.
In the end, what should a watch lover and aficionado take away from such collaborations? Many don’t have the opportunity to try on an AP watch on their wrists and even fewer to buy one. So why would AP spend to sponsor and commission such art? This is a set of questions I posed to Olivier Audemars, great-grandson of the founder and Vice Chairman at AP, as I interviewed him; and for which a follow-on post will reveal the answers and dive into. However, for those who have reached this point, let me share my quick take on this question as it will set the course for the next two posts on Audemars Piguet @ ArtBasel 2018.
I believe the gist of why such collaborations is important is the same as why we still love mechanical watches while we really have no need for them. It has to do with the fact that we as humans are emotional creatures. And these emotions stem from our relationships with the people and things around us. And these relationships are only built with time. By sponsoring art projects, AP tries to get to the heart of what makes us emotional creatures.
They are trying to touch these emotional strings that constitute our fibers, our beings. For these are the same as the ones that makes us want to celebrate a special occasion with a piece of mechanical art on our wrist, designed to last forever, rather than a disposable tool. audemarspiguet.com