Audemars Piguet Spotlights Contemporary Chinese Art at Art Basel Miami

In one of the latest marriages of Chinese contemporary art and luxury, a Swiss watchmaker has partnered with a renowned artist known for painting, woodcuts, and animation. Audemars Piguet has funded Chinese artist Sun Xun’s large-scale installation, “Reconstruction of the Universe” at Art Basel Miami, and the artist was in town to speak about his exhibition late last week.

The bamboo structure spanning one block on Miami Beach showcased an interpretation of the theme of the passing of “time” through animation, created through individual frames of meticulously carved woodcuts. Its final form, a 3D presentation and corresponding prints, was unveiled on November 29 to an audience that included tennis star and brand ambassador Serena Williams and actress Katie Holmes.

Francois-Henry Bennahmias, Andras Szanto, Sun Xun, Olivier Audemars at the unveiling of "Reconstruction of the Universe." (Courtesy Photo)

Francois-Henry Bennahmias, Andras Szanto, Sun Xun, and Olivier Audemars at the unveiling of “Reconstruction of the Universe.” (Courtesy Photo)

“It has been very interesting to work on the Audemars Piguet Art Commission, one of my most complex projects to date,” Sun said in a press statement. “I have drawn upon years of experience and worked with a team of over 100 art students to realize this artwork, and I am pleased to see that what I imagined on paper here exactly one year ago has now taken shape.”

This exhibition is the second of its kind funded through Audemars Piguet Art Commision, and the first from the commission to feature a Chinese artist. Earlier this year, the company brought on Chinese curator Ruijun Shen to select the best artist from Asia, whose collaboration was first revealed at Art Basel Hong Kong.

The Swiss watchmaker has also been stepping up its presence in China in other ways. In October, the brand launched a private watch exhibition at Shanghai’s Yuz Museum to raise brand awareness through combining a product collection with art and history. Titled “To Break the Rules, You Must First Master Them,” the show combined the architectural expertise of French designer Mathieu Lehanneur with commissioned work by Chinese artist Cheng Ran to complement the timepieces. Audemars Piguet’s chief marketing officer told Jing Daily in an exclusive interview at the time that China was an “important” market for the brand, making the Shanghai location a chance they “could not easily pass up.”

Ahead of that exhibition, Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias said they “remained cautious” despite the fact its global business had not declined in half a decade amid the more choppy waters other watchmakers have been facing. The China luxury slowdown, the slowdown of mainland tourists in Hong Kong, and the anti-graft campaign have all been factors threatening the Swiss watch industry in Greater China and around the world in the last few years. Audemars Piguet has been focusing on making its brand more well-known in China, and choosing art channels to do so.

It’s a method that’s recently been popular among international luxury brands looking for creative ways to reach affluent Chinese consumers. From handbags to clothes to jewelry and watches, brands have been working with Chinese curators to find artists whose work will speak to an emerging group of Chinese collectors and potential new customers. These collaborations take on multiple forms, from brands like Tiffany & Co. sponsoring art exhibitions in China, to Gucci hosting a large-scale museum show of its luxury products alongside art, to Shanghai shopping mall K11 hosting art exhibitions that tie in with fashion. If Sun Xun’s installation is anything to go by, art enthusiasts and luxury shoppers can likely expect to see more of this trend in the coming year.

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