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Exclusive Interview with Denis Pernet of Audemars Piguet Contemporary

Audemars Piguet Contemporary is a nomadic contemporary art

commissioning program, established by Audemars Piguet in 2012. Each year, newly commissioned artworks are exhibited worldwide, and past cities include Miami,

Venice and Shanghai with upcoming exhibitions in São Paulo and Berlin in 2024.

In this interview, Denis Pernet, one of the in-house curators at Audemars Piguet Contemporary, discusses the philosophy behind the Audemars Piguet Contemporary program and working with artists to create new site-specific work. He talks about the importance of giving artists total freedom and how the program encourages experimentation and exploration. Additionally, he explains the motivation for Audemars Piguet, both philosophical and practical, in supporting contemporary art. Finally, he explains the process of selecting artists and commissioning new artwork and the importance of external partnerships and dialogue.

Sallisa Rosa and Audemars Piguet Contemporary curator Denis Pernet. Courtesy of the artist and Audemars Piguet

Sallisa Rosa and Audemars Piguet Contemporary curator Denis Pernet. Courtesy of the artist and Audemars Piguet

L'A: Sallisa Rosa's installation was one of the highlights of our Art Basel coverage. Unlike many other exhibitions, it was a unique satellite installation that required its own space in Collins Park. I was curious to understand why it needed such a dedicated space. When I finally visited, I found it particularly interesting to see people interacting with the art instead of the usual "do not touch" signs. It felt like an invitation to a personal experience, making it a unique and immersive experience.

Denis Pernet: Great, well, I'm glad. That was really the goal of the artist and of Audemars Piguet Contemporary. We put the artist in the center of our attention, so we try to understand what could enhance the power of the artist. That was what she wanted. We are very proud to be able to support her in her first large solo installation in the US. And, as you know, the shows will travel to Brazil, back to São Paulo, presented at Pinacoteca in São Paulo from 16 March to 28 July 2024 in the brand new wing that they created there; it's a very beautiful space.

L'A: When you're curating [art] for Audemars Piguet Contemporary, how much of the final product is the artists' vision, and how much of it is guided by AP's art program? Is it 100% the artists' vision, and AP supports it?

Denis Pernet: Yes!

L'A: That's amazing.

Denis Pernet: We start by giving the artists total freedom: carte blanche, with no set theme or expectations other than to support them. Our aim is to inspire them to explore new avenues in their practice they may not have had the chance to pursue before. We're not a museum or commercial gallery, so we want to encourage experimentation and exploration. Perhaps they have a skill they've never had the opportunity to try, or maybe the artist has a long-term research interest that they've never been able to formalize. Having this conversation with the artist is vital to us, and that's why we commission the creation of new artwork. For us, the journey is just as fascinating as the final result.

Additionally, we offer mediation elements, such as the leaflet we produced for Sallisa's exhibition. The process of developing her work was fascinating, and we wanted to share that with others. She collected clay from different lands and created her own topography in the middle of Miami Beach, which was awe-inspiring. The installation was stunning, but it was the personal and complex process that really made it special. It was a journey rooted in tradition and personal experience, which was very important for us. To sum up, it is more than 100% the artist. We are facilitators, aiming to encourage experimentation, and the artist is the focus, always.

L'A: Since the exhibition is free for the public and the artist has no brief or creative boundaries, what is the primary benefit for Audemars Piguet?

Denis Pernet: Audemars Piguet believes creativity feeds culture and can make a difference in our lives - so one main benefit is philosophical. Art can help us learn more about ourselves and others, connecting people through dialogue and debate. This is particularly important for Audemars Piguet's relationship with contemporary art. Through the artist's practice, they can propose something that will make us think differently about the present and future.

L'A:  In the world of contemporary art, Audemars Piguet is uniquely positioned because the brand can collaborate with international pop sensations like Travis Scott and then turn around and commission an art installation from Sallisa Rosa. 

Denis Pernet: They both carry a lot of philosophical advantages - they are both relevant for our time.

L'A: Exactly. So, how does Audemars Piguet Contemporary examine an artist's body of work and decide that this is the voice that captures the sentiments of our time?

Denis Pernet: It's a lot of research, but we are not doing it alone. Sallisa is a great example. We have two in-house curators at Audemars Piguet Contemporary, and both of us have extensive experience working in-house at non-profit institutions and museums. However, we are also seeking external partnerships, dialogue, and discussions. In the case of Sallisa Rosa, it was the first time that Audemars Piguet Contemporary had the opportunity to do a project connected with Brazil, where there are many different art scenes. Brazil is an immense country, so we quickly came up with the idea of teaming up with a guest curator, Thiago de Paula Souza. We selected him because we really wanted to support young artists from these new scenes in Brazil. Although Sallisa Rosa is not young per se, she is relatively young as an artist because she only started her practice about five or six years ago. Thiago has many areas of expertise, and one of them is his knowledge of these young, emerging scenes that have been existing for 10 or 20 years now, with many new identities in the landscape of Brazilian art. Currently, it's a hyper-interesting moment in Brazil, and in all of Latin America, but particularly in Brazil. Thus, it was a great conversation with Thiago to identify Sallisa's practice and the potential and desire to do a project together.

Sallisa Rosa, Thiago de Paula Souza and APC curator Denis Pernet, December 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Audemars Piguet

Sallisa Rosa, Thiago de Paula Souza and APC curator Denis Pernet, December 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Audemars Piguet

L'A: Audemars Piguet, a renowned luxury timepiece manufacturer, is now venturing into contemporary art and culture shaping. As a curator for Audemars Piguet Contemporary, I am curious to know how you perceive this transition from the brand's long-standing legacy into the art world. Do you view this move as a natural evolution for Audemars Piguet or a bold step into unknown territories as an attempt to stay modern?

Denis Pernet: It's a little bit of both. Audemars Piguet has a strong tradition of supporting craftsmanship in the Vallée de Joux, which has always promoted solidarity and the exchange of various skills. This has led to a culture of promoting craftsmanship in the region. Also, Audemars Piguet has always possessed desire to go beyond tradition and offer both traditional and forward-thinking designs. So, there is something mutual in this interest that Audemars Piguet shares in the various arts. Creativity plays a vital role in nourishing culture, be it in the arts or even in watchmaking.

L'A: This is interesting. How did you start with Audemars Piguet? What was their intention, or your intention, with what you would bring to Audemars Piguet? 

Denis Pernet: I began working on the program five years ago. At the time, the program was growing larger, and a second curator position became available. I humbly tried to figure out how I could contribute to the already impressive history that existed. When I joined in 2018, numerous incredible projects were already underway, so my goal was to modestly add to that rich history and that past.

L'A: We spoke about emerging scenes and voices in different places like Brazil, Latin America, etc. What emerging scenes or collective movements do you see coming out in the art world, and how do you see them shaping the global contemporary art scene?

Denis Pernet: We are all engaged in research and assisting young artists to pursue their research, but we never know what the outcome will be. The surprises that arise are what make contemporary art and culture so exciting. So, the only thing that I can tell you is to keep following contemporary art - and culture in general - there will be a lot of surprises, and I don't want to be the one to predict them; I want to be the one who is surprised by it and couldn't foresee it. Each time I visit an art exhibition, I am amazed by the artist's work. Recently, we have seen a lot of attention given to different cultures and identities, which has been one of the great joys of contemporary art.

Sallisa Rosa and Audemars Piguet Contemporary curator Denis Pernet. Courtesy of the artist and Audemars Piguet

Sallisa Rosa and Audemars Piguet Contemporary curator Denis Pernet. Courtesy of the artist and Audemars Piguet

L'A: Leading from there, I would like to ask what you see next for Audemars Piguet Contemporary. I know you said that you cannot plan for the future because art is spontaneous; there's no way you can understand what is coming next. But is there anything you are working on that you're particularly excited about now? 

Denis Pernet: Yes. Of course, you already know about Sallisa Rosa's Topography of Memory going to São Paulo, which is a big pleasure for us. It will be presented at the

Pinacoteca de São Paulo from 16 March to 28 July 2024. We are very excited to hold our first exhibition in Brazil. We are also collaborating with a Romanian artist from Bucharest, Alexandra Pirici, on a major project in April 2024. It is co-commissioned with Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. She has a background in performance art, however, she is working on something that goes beyond performance, and it will be quite spectacular. This is an emerging trend in contemporary art, with a focus on performance-based art and actions. We are thrilled to support such innovation.

We are also continuing our research with different areas in the world and focusing on areas of the world that we have yet to work with. In the past, we worked a lot with North America, Asia, and Europe, and so now we are continuing to bring more variety in our selection of artists.


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