Can wearing a watch be performance art?


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From 1992 until 2000 Audemars Piguet produced a more discreetly sized version of their original Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’, the 14790 measuring a more svelte 36mm edge to edge. AP let their creativity run a little wilder with this watch, producing dial not only in the expected white, black, grey, and salmon, but also a vibrant red and this sparkling blue. The internal name for the colour is ‘lacquered sapphire’ but amongst collectors, it is known as ‘Yves Klein Blue’.

Yves Klein (1928-1962) was a French artist of the ‘Nouveau Réalisme’ movement and a pioneer of performance art, but what he is best known for is a colour – blue. From 1949 Klein experimented with monochrome canvases but from 1956 onwards he focused on just a single colour. For his 1957 exhibition 'Proposte Monocrome, Epoca Blu', he presented 11 identical blue canvases. The remarkable vibrance of the colour was achieved by suspending the ultramarine pigment in a synthetic resin, rather than linseed oil which would dull the impact. The paint was developed in collaboration with Edouard Adam, a Parisian art paint supplier.

In May 1960 Klein registered the recipe for the paint under the name IKB (International Klein Blue). This has passed into popular culture, being featured as the sole backdrop colour for the 1993 Derek Jarman film ‘Blue’, William Gibson’s novel ‘Zero History’ as the suit colour worn by the anti-hero Hubertus Bigend, and the subject of the Manic Street Preacher’s 2017 track ‘International Blue’. American performance art company the Blue Man Group use IKB as their signature colour for painting their skin.

While not officially using the term IKB for their dial colour, the vibrance of the Audemars Piguet ref. 14790 is striking and makes the watch wear much larger than its 36mm diameter would suggest. Maybe Yves Klein would see the wearing of the watch as a modest piece of performance art.