Breathtaking Scale of Artistic Effort
As you walk the halls of Art Basel in Miami and the 20+ simultaneous associated art shows in the city, a marathon worthy distance, at some point you get hit with the breath-taking enormity of the artistic effort around you. Without hyperbole, one can estimate that the person-hours to create these works is in the millions+ order of magnitude.
With that as a frame, how fitting it was to end our first day in Miami Beach by attending the unveiling of Sun Xun’s Reconstruction of the Universe, commissioned by Swiss high-end luxury watch maker Audemars Piguet for Art Basel.
Audemars Piguet Art Commission
This is the 2nd year of the Audemars Piguet annual commission, that aims to not only give a “bag of money, but also to create a dialog with the artist”, as András Szántó: Cultural Advisor for Audemars Piguet explained at the official unveiling on November 29, 2016. That meant, among other things, that Audemars Piguet collaborated with Sun Xun to procure the highest quality projection and optical devices.
The output of this award by Audemars Piguet is a 10-minute long 3D animation film created from 10,000 woodcuts, each both made and compiled with exacting precision.
Watching “Reconstruction of the Universe” once proved insufficient. On the second viewing one is able to absorb more, and if the queue of others waiting for the comfortable lounge chairs and 3 D glasses hadn’t been so long at the unveiling, we probably would enjoyed binge watching re-runs for an hour or more.
Lamentation on Time
The content of the piece is described in the press release as follows, “Growing up in a time immediately following the Chinese Cultural Revolution, themes of global history, culture, memory and politics have had a profound impact on Sun Xun’s work. For his installation in Miami Beach, Sun Xun will explore the Five Elements – metal, wood, fire, water, and earth – that structure the universe according to Chinese cultural tradition. Bridging classical and modern art and exploring the history and metaphysics of the world that surrounds us, the installation, among its many layers of meaning, amounts to a prolonged meditation on time, both in content and in form.”
Devotees of Sun Xun’s work note use of images that are recurring themes, such as a magician, whom Sun Xun describes as the iconic liar who creates an alternate reality. Picture also a backdrop of streaming Chinese newspapers or posters that horses and creatures gallop upon in a foreground. Then you see an iconic statue of Lenin, a man who once predicted that world revolution would surely start in Switzerland, pop up on the landscape for an instant. Like a repeating musical riff, we see the morph of the watchmaker’s monocle magnifying glass into cannons emerging from what we think of as a Swiss factory.
In another place and time one might simply have described Sun Xun’s work as “trippy”. There is much to delight in here—with its seemingly bottomless poetic imagery and fabulous artistry.
The structure where the work is shown is in itself quite impressive, especially if you are approaching it as the end-point of a long walk along the sandy Miami Beach oceanfront. Sun Xun was reported to have drawn the plans for this structure in all of fifteen minutes.
One of several Art Basel corporate sponsors, Audemars Piguet seems to have developed a winning formula to find artistic expression to fund that also conveys what it presents as its company soul. This reviewer has made a strong mental note to arrive at Art Basel Miami next year in time to see the work of Sun Xun’s successor.
Photos courtesy of Audemars Piguet, unless otherwise indicated.