Olivier Audemars — the charismatic great-grandson of Edward Auguste Piguet, one of the founders of Audemars Piguet — is a tireless champion of contemporary art. As vice-chairman of the luxury watch brand’s board of directors, he spearheads the Audemars Piguet Art Commission, an ambitious project that scouts the world for artists whose works revolve around, appropriately, the themes of complexity and precision. Since 2013, the brand has also partnered Art Basel in Hong Kong, Basel and Miami Beach, where it has showcased commissioned works by the like of Cheng Ran, Sun Xun and Theo Jansen. Here, Audemars speaks about his own personal collecting tastes and just why art shouldn’t be an investment tool.
What is your first conscious memory of art?
It was a reproduction in a gallery window in Geneva of Magritte’s The Empire of Light. I think I was about 10-years-old and my mother couldn’t understand why I suddenly stopped in front of the window and was so struck by it. I just couldn’t work out the contradictions between the house, the light and its relationship to the lamp-post.
So, when did you start collecting art?
It was really when Audemars Piguet began its collaboration with artists. Because that was when I was able to meet the artists in situ, in their studios and galleries, and have them explain to me their process. When that happens, it changes your perspective of someone’s work and your appreciation of it, and I guess the desire to own one of their pieces flows from that.
Why is that perspective important to you?
Artists have a capacity to see things differently. If you know what to look for, especially with their guidance, there are signals in their art that tell you a lot about them, and their background. You get an understanding of their reality through their work, and how they’ve evolved.
What’s in your personal collection, then?
I have mostly modern sculptures and paintings. I seem to collect a lot of Asian artists. But generally, there’s no real structure to what I collect — so long as it strikes a chord in me and I can afford it! I actually don’t have much space in my home.
How is that chord struck? Is it emotional or intellectual, for instance?
It’s both! It is very hard for me to dissociate the two in this instance. Art generates too many emotions, questions, and reactions at every level.
Why are you so attracted to Asian art?
It’s interesting that most of the pieces I’ve been drawn to during the Art Basel shows have been by Asian artists. Perhaps there’s an aesthetic that appeals to me. It’s hard to explain. Perhaps also it’s because I am less familiar with the oeuvre. I’m always on a quest to understand new fields, so that might be the reason why Asian art appeals to me more.
What do you think of the old masters?
My approach to art is the same as watches: I don’t look back. So, I am much more interested in the present or the future.
Given this philosophy of looking to the future, does it even make sense to have a collection? Do you think you’ll ever divest yourself of your collection?
When I acquire a piece of art, I do so because there is a connection with the work. That emotion won’t fade over time, but it will change and evolve each time I look at it, so that I’m constantly rediscovering the same piece with fresh eyes and seeing it differently. So no, I won’t sell what I’ve decided to acquire.
Which artists do you admire?
I gravitate towards artists before they become famous, when they’re in the early stages of their career. Though, of course, sometimes, an artist like Basquiat doesn’t become famous until after their death. I used to admire Ai Wei Wei a lot, but I’ve become a little disappointed that he has become commercialised.
So, you don’t buy art for investment?
I think it’s terrible when people buy art because they expect the value to increase. You want to buy a piece because it speaks to you. It’s like a watch. You buy it because you want to wear it. Similarly, at our corporate level, Audemars Piguet does not invest in art for the sake of collecting. The main idea is to evolve our tastes and understanding and appreciation of art through our collaborations with the artists.
Find out more about Audemars Piguet’s art collaborations in our September 2017 issue.