A global associate partner of Art Basel in 2012 and 2013, Audemars Piguet solidified its commitment to artistic expression by supporting Theo Jansen at this year’s fair, in Miami.
The Dutch artist is the father of Strandbeests, kinetic sculptures made out of PVC tubes that come to life and start walking on sand thanks to the power of wind coming over the shore. For the past 20 years, Jansen has built these life-like machines, giving them Latin names after their birth, and watching they live, reproduce – the terms chosen by Jansen to describe those who have 3D printed their own be(a)sts all over the world – and go extinct when they ultimately break down. The artist’s work has been followed closely by New York Times correspondent Lawrence Weschler, and by photographer Lena Herzog, who has just published a wonderful black and white chronicle (which has inspired us for this article) of Jansen’s work called The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen. Please check both sources for additional information on the Strandbeests.
While I cannot pretend to understand the artistic value of Jansen’s work, I must admit I was amazed at the discovery of his creatures. For those who haven’t encountered them yet, the reaction to seeing one of his beasts in motion, walking on the warm sand of South Beach, is akin to our enthusiasm in front of an Audemars Piguet movement. The jaw drops, the mind goes into a spin, trying to figure out how it all works.
The size of Jansen’s creatures ranges from the tank-like to the miniature, which measure only a few inches more than Audemars Piguet’s own beast: the Royal Oak Selfwinding 15400. Launched in 2012, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Gerald Genta’s octogonal design, this selfwinding watch features a date display and centre seconds, in a stainless steel case, with blue dial, and stainless steel bracelet.
Jansen does not wear a watch though, and admits he prefers his wrist “naked.” However, this does not diminish the partnership between the artist and the Swiss watchmaker. In fact, it only augments its authenticity. Instead of promoting the product, Jansen obsesses over the notion of time. In fact, it is the realization of his own mortality that has catapulted this former physician in the world of the beests. The goal is to see them walking on their own forever. “I want them to walk on this beach, where I will for sure scatter my ashes, forever,” Jansen told me, talking about the Dutch shores he grew up on.
Build to last, like our horological friends, they have in fact turned out to be quite beautiful. Contrary to the watchmakers from Le Brassus, the beautification of his creations was not Jansen’s intention. “I know I can do it, but I do not know how I do it,” said Jansen. In fact, far from promoting himself as their ‘creator,’ Jansen says he slaves away for them, and listens to their wishes when building them. While South Beach proved to be the ideal backdrop for the Strandbeets and Audemars Piguet, the new partners hinted at the idea of seeing them crawl on the Lac de Joux – perhaps when it freezes over this winter.
Audemars Piguet’s first step into the world of art should soon be followed by a longer trail. While the partnership between the art and the watch industry is novel, Audemars Piguet’s Historian Michael Friedman, reminded those in attendance of the importance of artsitic crafts at the genesis of watchmaking, when watchmakers focused on aesthetic appeal before developing accurate timekeepers. Friedman believes the industry as a whole has since been freed by the timekeeping perfection of Quartz, as brands revert back to building objects that transcend their mechanical prowess.
Audemars Piguet closed the exhibition by welcoming Serena Williams to its family-owned brand. Williams – who looked glamourous wearing a gold Millenary – is said to desperate to play tennis with one, according to insider sources.
Photo Credit: STRANDBEEST; Audemars Piguet; Haute Time. For more information, please visit the official Audemars Piguet website.