Vacheron Constantin’s New York Flagship Store Opens With a Surprising Collaboration With the Chris Burden Estate
The installation is the first-ever branded collaboration for the American artist's estate.
Swiss luxury watch house Vacheron Constantin opened the doors of its first North American flagship shop today, located on New York’s East 57th Street.
The store is the company’s largest yet, boasting 4,500 square feet spread across two floors, separated by a winding staircase with bronze vertical columns inspired by 19th century architecture. It offers the brand’s complete timepiece collection in addition to boutique-specific exclusives and the first permanent “Les Collectionneurs” collection, a carefully curated, special selection of vintage pieces from the 20th century that have been restored in-house and are available for sale with the same warranty afforded to the brand’s contemporary watches.
The opening also marks the 100th anniversary of the “American 1921,” a tilted-dial wristwatch devised specifically for the American market. The success of the timepiece in the United States reflects in many ways the dreams of founder Jacques Barthélémi Vacheron, who was set on making Vacheron Constantin a household name among well-heeled society in America.
On view in celebration of the anniversary is an exhibition exploring Vacheron’s star-studded American history through watches from the personal collections of the Rockefeller family, Henry and William James, and Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, among others. (Brando’s watch, funnily enough, is inscribed with a note that reads “to Marlon love Zsa Zsa June 24 1954.” Make of that what you will.)
The flagship also opened with a striking installation done in collaboration with the Chris Burden estate, which marks the first time the estate has worked with a luxury brand.
Inspired by the artist’s kinetic sculpture Metropolis II (2011)—which, currently housed at LACMA, depicts a made-up city and its conveyer belt-laid “roads,” over which zoom 1,080 miniature vehicles, built from materials including wooden blocks and Legos—the piece imagines a bronze metropolis with towering skyscrapers and tiny gold cars, which race around the store’s windows in homage to the frenetic pace of the city just beyond the glass.
During a soft opening event earlier this summer, Alexander Schmiedt, the new president of Vacheron Constantin Americas, explained that the brand chose to collaborate with the Burden estate on the project because of the artist’s ability to marry mechanical innovation with art and fun.
Still, it was not the most obvious choice for a luxury brand—Burden, an artist who was obsessed with spectacle, is also known for performances like Shoot, when in 1971 his friend shot him in the left arm from a 15-foot distance and captured it all on Super-8 film.
Though much of Burden’s earlier work centered on performances of this kind, it was how the artist explored and pushed the boundaries of reality in contemporary settings through his later sculptures—inquiries into public infrastructure, mechanics, power, and speed—that drew the attention of Vacheron Constantin and made a luxury watch brand a natural fit for a collaboration of this kind.
“Human creativity is the thing that pushes boundaries, and I think Chris Burden really showed that,” Schmiedt told Artnet News. “You constantly have to move and change and try new things, to explore what you can do. For me, that’s really the common denominator between Chris’s sculptures and what we do.”
For the Burden estate, too, the collaboration presented an opportunity by which to continue Burden’s legacy in a new and unexpected way.
“Had Chris Burden been with us, he would have been 75, which is a milestone year,” said Yayoi Shionori, executive director of the Chris Burden estate, who helmed the project alongside Schmeidt. “We were trying to find different ways by which we could celebrate that milestone and as someone who works for the estate, I was really thinking about how best to steward Chris Burden’s art historical and art critical legacy. How do we keep him in the conversation? How do we engage a new audience, whether it’s new curators or new collectors or new museum people or new connoisseurs? That was why I thought it was very important to pursue a brand collaboration.”
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