Time Art

Time On Display: The Watches And Art Of Art Basel's 50th Edition

The 50th edition of Art Basel – sponsored by Audemars Piguet since 2013 – has now closed another successful year. Watchonista was there and took the 'time' to do some art and watch-spotting.

By Anders Modig

A slice of rock, a clepsydra, an hourglass, and a mechanical clock movement. By combining these four elements representing time, Francisco Tropa’s Pharmacie (2019), shown at Art Basel Unlimited, not only sums up a quartet of the most important stages of timekeeping, it also creates one of the most beautiful depictions of the passing of time I have ever seen. This live installation, utilizing mirrors and projecting lights, creates overlapping, sepia-toned imagery at a slow tempo, dissolving time while its relentless movement is ever-present.

A bit further into the Unlimited section of Art Basel, where installations, video, live performances, and interactive virtual reality art are given ample space, I marveled at Carsten Höller’s wall-mounted Decimal Clock. Constructed of slightly bent neon tubes, this fully functional work deals with the division of time – by illustrating a decimal system. Time is measured in 10 hours – each 100 minutes long – and each minute is 100 seconds. The Decimal Clock also blends different eras by going in archetypal circles and referring to experiments in time division carried out during the French Revolution.

To me, the slightly pink neon also conveys a feeling of a 1950s diner. Next to the Decimal Clock, there is a VR installation. Here people wearing VR goggles are feverishly waving their hands in front of them; the individual yet disconnected group activity reminds me that our experience of time is absolute and utterly solitary.

Next to the Unlimited section, in the Art Basel VIP section, there are two main players in the Audemars Piguet booth. The new Code 11.59 collection and an installation by Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen. Let’s start with the watches. The vitrines adjacent to the art installation exclusively focus on the new collection presented for the first time in January 2019.

Several models, including the grand sonnerie and chronograph, feature dark lacquered dials in black and blue. On a watchmaker’s bench the case is shown sans movement, both in real size and as a much-magnified clay model. These elements clarify the design of the 11.59, which can be interpreted as a love child between the Royal Oak and a case-profile reminiscent of a miniaturized, yet drawn-out VW Beetle.

Beyond the vitrines Winderen shares her perspective on our times through listening to and enhancing sounds in natural bodies of water. Thanks to extreme amplification, she captures the language of fish, crustaceans and mammals – including humans – traveling through rivers, lakes and oceans.

Winderen’s site-specific recordings are sometimes released as CDs or on streaming services, and she also uses these sounds as tools when performing meditative live acts, like during Art Basel where she played at the nearby Basel institution Haus der Elektronischen Künste (House of Electronic Arts).

“Science and art are not a big step from each other,” said the artist who also has an academic background in mathematics, chemistry, and aquatic ecology.

To find a contrast to the exclusive haute horlogerie creations of Audemars Piguet, I went looking for interesting personalities wearing more affordable watches, proving the old saying “it’s not what you wear; it’s how you wear it.”

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Sponsored by Audemars Piguet

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