During the Renaissance period, which marked the return of classical techniques, art was funded by the aristocracy; kings, queens, popes, and other members of high society commissioned many pieces that nowadays are considered to be priceless masterpieces. Today, iconic luxury brands like Rolex, La Prairie, and Audemars Piguet are just a few who have taken on the mantle of supporting fine art. Creativity in its many forms has celebrated the world and now Switzerland is celebrating it in turn. Baselworld 2019, a show for luxury jewelry and watches, combines the finery of rare gems and precious metals with the time-honored institution of fine art.
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Renowned for its programmes to encourage artists, Rolex pairs master artists with gifted newcomers in its Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative programme in disciplines from the musical arts and architecture to cinema and visual arts. Selected promising artists benefit from a year of creative mentoring by world-famous masters. Illustrious names on the list of past mentors include Martin Scorsese in film; Phillip Glass in music; Peter Zumthor in architecture, and Anish Kapoor in visual arts. Its most recent visual arts programme paired New York artist Joan Jonas with protégé Thao-Nguyen Phan, which culminated in Phan’s solo show in Berlin.
La Prairie’s intimate link with art arose in part through the influence of iconic French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Her sense of aesthetic and vibrant use of colour shaped the company’s choice of cobalt blue packaging of the Skin Caviar products 30 years ago. In 2018 La Prairie commissioned 27-year-old Swiss-Dutch artist Manon Wertenbroek to pay homage to de Saint Phalle and explore themes of precision, balance, and beauty.
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“I was inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle’s form and colour,” Wertenbroek says. “She was a super strong woman at a time when the art world was mostly dominated by men. I can relate to this as it’s still much this way. My work deals with identity,” she says. “About the difference between our social identity and the identity which is less visible. It’s guided by the question, ‘What do you really reveal about yourself when you’re with others?’” For example, “Mirrors is more about the object,” she says. “Are you looking at reality when you see a reflection?” she asks. It also includes references to social interactions and being in relationships.
Swiss luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet began supporting contemporary art projects in 2013. Located in the Swiss Vallée de Joux, the company collaborates with artists to explore themes of complexity and precision that reflect the high level of craftsmanship in its watchmaking. Audemars Piguet selects and presents artists at Art Basel editions around the world. A guest curator scouts out work from artists who resonate with Audemars Piguet’s vision and invites them to the Vallée de Joux and the village of Brassus, where the headquarters is located. The location’s link to haute horlogerie means that many of the artists find inspiration in combining high craft with beauty.
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For Art Basel 2018, the company invited Sebastian Errazuriz to create the booth titled Foundations, referencing the foundries which traditionally refined the metals used in watchmaking. “Artists have a capacity to see the world differently from the rest of us and to express this unique vision in their work,” says Olivier Audemars, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Audemars Piguet. Expressing this different perspective on the world opens up a vision and broadens horizons.
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