Alec Monopoly Joins The TAG Heuer Universe: A (Street) Artist In Swiss Residence
If you thought TAG Heuer was only about sports watches and great chronograph designs, you’re going to have to look again . . . there’s a very new thing going on in Heuerland.
This new thing came to TAG Heuer, a brand traditionally known for its historical stopwatches and arrestingly masculine designs, along with Jean-Claude Biver, chairman of the LVMH watch division, who took over the reins of TAG Heuer in December 2014.
This new thing is called “universes.” And these universes are what allow TAG Heuer to experiment with ideas, links, and strategies that may not officially fit with the golden thread of the brand’s history. The universes allow the generally quite traditional TAG Heuer to open out into new possibilities of combination without forsaking the age-old messages already built into the brand.
These universes are divided into four distinct sections: sport, heritage, lifestyle, and art & music. And one thing these all have in common is the idea that they need to speak to a younger – next or millennial – generation. Examples of collaborations that already exist in this vein comprise work with David Guetta (art & music), One Republic (art & music), Martin Garrix (art & music), Cara Delevignge (lifestyle), Chris Hemsworth (lifestyle), Red Bull Racing (sport), Manchester United (sport), and Muhammad Ali (heritage).
And this is right where Alec Monopoly enters the scene.
Using Art Basel Miami Beach as the backdrop, Alec Monopoly was announced as a new collaboration for TAG Heuer (art & music universe). Now, opinions have been divided on this – and Biver admitted also understanding that this would be a controversial and “disruptive” choice – so let’s take a closer look at what makes this particular collaboration a potential turning point in the modern history of TAG Heuer.
“Alec Monopoly” is the alias of a young graffiti artist originally from New York City. He covers part of his face with a kerchief, bandana, or stylized surgical mask in public as graffiti art is often illegal and punishable by law since it defaces the property of others. Graffiti actually falls into the category of vandalism.
Graffiti as an artistic genre has emerged from modern spray paint graffiti, which often encompasses social and/or political messages as well as personal expression. An unrelated type of graffiti is gang territory marking; this does not apply to Alec Monopoly’s expression of the art form.
Graffiti/street art entered official art galleries in the early 1980s, at which time many art critics considered it revolutionary, while others saw it as perpetuating crime.
Alec Monopoly moved to Los Angeles in 2008, mainly because the abundance of billboards made it easier for him to work there. Apparently he had also had enough of being chased by the NYC police, but also ostensibly because of the Wall Street crash. “This was my way of making a statement about what was happening,” he said.
His first solo art show took place at a gallery in New York in November 2010, and from there his particular brand of art, which often showcases Rich Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly game, has headed into a more corporate, mainstream place.
By 2013 Monopoly had not only hosted a yacht party sponsored by Samsung during Art Basel Miami Beach, but he had also created a live mural on a piece of red carpet to help publicize Justin Bieber’s concert documentary, Justin Bieber’s Believe.
So while Monopoly’s street art arguably symbolized the downward spiral of the world economy, particularly after 2008 – and he has been quoted in the LAist as saying, “The Monopoly guy represents what was going on in Wall Street, a lot of evil investors like Bernie Madoff” – many now question is whether that is still what the Monopoly man represents to him after he became rich from his art.
Monopoly, who worries less about his critics, is obviously doing good business. The word is that he has an extensive collection of watches including timepieces by Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and many more – though he did decline to name any of these during our interview in Miami out of deference to his new collaboration with TAG Heurer, you can see some of these watches on his Instagram account.
“My collection is growing,” he said in answer to my query about what kinds of watches he already owns. “I actually started selling my paintings for a lot of money now, and I’ve always been passionate about watches, but I could never afford them. Now, with success, I can afford to buy some watches. This [he gestures to the one-off diamond-encrusted Carrera Heuer-02T with chronograph and tourbillon that Biver had just gifted him] is my new favorite watch. It’s my first tourbillon watch ever, so this is a big moment for me. It’s an accomplishment to own a tourbillon watch.”
He came to the TAG Heuer event in Miami in a quite showy Lamborghini that he had of course painted in his own style. His Instagram feed shows him hobnobbing with celebrities and living the Dom Pérignon life.
Is Alec Monopoly’s brand of art really a “nouveau” art for the nouveau riche? Or is it “just” a new style that appeals to the youngest generation of up-and-coming art (and watch) consumers?
For TAG Heuer, this question probably isn’t relevant. What is relevant is that the association attracts attention from the new generation of watch consumers as much as young art consumers.
In 2014, Alec Monopoly was in the top ten most searched artists on Artnet. When I consider the other nine listed there, I believe it is safe to say that this street artist has made it, and that he can bring to the TAG Heuer family that which is desired: a large following.
Art Provacateur: TAG Heuer’s artist in residence
Art Basel Miami Beach with its laid-back, yet glam ambiance was the perfect backdrop for Biver to make the latest TAG Heuer announcement. Art Basel Miami Beach has become a popular hotspot in which watch brands can attract solvent American and international consumers; the art fair’s timing is perfect just before Christmas and well ahead of the 2017 watch fairs, and many watch brands now take advantage.
It is here that Biver announced the new collaboration between the artist and the watch brand in the TAG Heuer boutique in Miami’s Design District – in a boutique that Alec Monopoly had the pleasure of “tagging” (street speak for decorating with graffiti art, could there be a more fitting slang word at this moment?).
“I have always had a passion for watches. I am excited by this great opportunity to put my creative ideas to work for TAG Heuer. This is a perfect opportunity to combine my artistic abilities with my love of timepieces,” he explained.
This adventure started between Alec Monopoly and Biver in St. Tropez many months ago, where Monopoly was hanging out with a famous designer friend.
Biver, who was directed to look at Monopoly’s work by his youngest son, had seen some of his paintings, looked him up, and they began talks.
“He’s a very inspirational man,” said Alec Monopoly as soon as I could find a few moments with him away from the excited crowd in the boutique to ask why this cooperation is coming together. “I love watches, and I’ve been a big fan of everything [Biver] does, between Hublot and now TAG. So when he mentioned a collaboration I was very excited.”
While Biver’s “other” brand, Hublot, has also engaged modern artists, and even announced more such collaborations during Art Basel Miami Beach, TAG Heuer’s contract with Alec Monopoly is much more extensive and comprehensive than what has as yet been done in the watch world. “We’re going to be working for a number of years, hopefully indefinitely. I love the brand, it’s an amazing partnership,” Monopoly enthused.
“This is something new to the watch market, no one’s ever done a collaboration like this, where I’m going to be working in Switzerland at the factory, will have my own studio where I’ll be designing watches, coming up with a lot of new things, and working in the boutiques, turning them into art galleries,” Monopoly describes the collaboration. “It’s very rare to walk into a watch boutique and see beautiful paintings and installations, and I’m doing sculptures, too, so we’re really pushing the envelope. It’s all about doing something that’s never been done before; that’s the key to success in art.”
Being named “Art Provacateur” is a somewhat vague description, so I asked Monopoly what exactly this entails.
“For me this is making a disruption in the art market and in the watch market as well. So for me it’s two different worlds converging. I’m creating new works in art, things that have never been done – and in the watch world as well now. We’re making a disruption, we’re making waves, we’re doing things that have never been done before – I’m a graffiti artist, and for a big company like TAG Heuer to bring me on as an ambassador and as a designer and creating artworks especially for the boutiques, this is something that has never been done before. I think it’s really cool. To be a graffiti artist and to be at a watch factory in Switzerland is amazing!”
Biver later stated that he has created a workshop for the artist in his own Swiss chalet in the mountains, but that he also wants to travel the world with the artist.
The following day, Biver and Monopoly inaugurated a giant wall on the side of Miami Beach’s Mondrian Hotel, which the artist had decorated. Not to be missed, even from a distance, the installation featuring depictions of Alec himself, the TAG Heuer logo, Steve McQueen, and – of course – Rich Uncle Pennybags spans ten stories and will continue to grace the hotel as long as its owner wishes. The artwork reveals were crowned by the live completion of a portrait of Biver holding a stopwatch, to which Biver also added a few brushstrokes.
“He will connect us to art,” said Biver, who also already owns a few of Monopoly’s paintings. “This is an extraordinary step in the history of Swiss watches, allowing the artist to influence the whole brand – inside and out.”
Quick Facts Alec Monopoly’s Carrera Heuer-02T
Case: 45 mm, stainless steel set with diamonds
Movement: automatic Caliber 02 Tourbillon, C.O.S.C. certified. one-minute tourbillon made of titanium and carbon fiber, 65-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Limitation: one unique piece just for Alec Monopoly
*Disclosure: Elizabeth Doerr’s trip to Miami Beach was paid by TAG Heuer.