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A jewel once you say so. A conversation between Christoph Zellweger and Manuel Castro Caldas , 1999

(Zellweger is a contemptory jewelry artist and Caldas is an art historian, curator, critic of contemporary art, art director. This interview was also taken from klimt02)

Manuel Castro Caldas – Looking at your work in retrospect, the first idea that comes to mind is that you belong to a specific family of contemporary jewellers, whose authors position themselves very bluntly within the tradition of jewellery as a craft, while questioning certain of its basic principles and premises: value and worth, function and aesthetics, what is jewellery, what it once was, what can it be tomorrow…. Do you feel that you’re part of this family?

Christoph Zellweger – Definitely…!

mcc – What about tradition? You make works of jewellery and I am thinking, for example, of the critical posture that led some painters to not make paintings…

cz – You can not make a painting without reference to painting, not jewellery either without reference to jewellery and relating the jewellery itself to the body. But you can reject, be critical with one’s own tradition. It’s just that at certain times, rejection is an option. Radical rejection of what came before is a creative option.

mcc – Do you feel this is still possible now?

cz – Things have changed. Twenty years ago there was a discussion going on among some contemporary jewellery artists in Holland and Germany about whether gold should even be used anymore, because gold was in the midst of a political crossfire in conjunction with the South African system of apartheid. Naturally that was a question of ethics, etc., but it also had to do with jewellery itself and it had a lasting effect on our self-understanding and the way we continue to use non-precious materials now. Today we are moved by very different topics, although, again, this involves ethics and political postulates. Currently, more jewellery makers are thinking about the body, which is being altered and manipulated more and more for medical and aesthetic reasons.

mcc – Some of your recent work addresses that question. You use expanded polystyrene as a material for jewellery, you form body parts or you chrome-plate bone-shaped pieces made of gold. In all of your work, I see this recurring idea of hidden materials, things that are not exactly what they seem to be at first glance.

cz – Now since CNN and Dolly, it really is not so easy to say anymore what is what, what is real. Manipulation is all around us. It has become a serious question, whether you should spend a huge amount of money on gold jewellery with lots of diamonds, or whether you should have your nose straightened or fat suctioned out or have your hip joints renovated for preventive reasons… I think people accept that now that the body does not have to stay as it is and are willing to also invest in improving their bodies, in cultivating their appearance, the way they used to do especially through the medium of jewellery. A more perfect body increases status?

mcc – Do you see a certain aesthetic appeal in the implanting of silicone cushions or metal parts in the body, rather like the jewel within?

cz – These parts themselves are often quite beautiful. Through an uncle, who is a casualty surgeon, I obtained a number of second-hand models. They are made with great precision and skill; they really are exquisite objects made of special high-grade steel alloys to be inserted in the body. But in order for it to be jewellery, there has to be a conscious intention about it. My works are not intended to be inserted into the body, and I have nothing to do with plastic surgery either. Yet I relate my work to the body, to the parts and shapes of the body, to whatever in our society is becoming technically possible, imaginable, feasible, and of course also to the aesthetics of these implants. Years ago, the jewellery artist Peter Skubic was already experimenting with objects under the skin. Currently an American sculptor is implanting arched steel forms directly under the skin…

mcc – We’ve come a long way since Otto Künzli’s “gold makes you blind”, that famous piece where a golden ball was hidden in a rubber bracelet.(1)

cz – That was a crucial, an important piece. He rendered the issue of value visible by hiding the actual precious material. Of course the gold is still there, but it is not the visible material value that is enticing, it’s rather the elaboration of the theme that is attractive and has been implemented in a wonderfully aesthetic way. I do see an analogy here to the steel implants, where value and beauty are hidden in the body.

mcc – Your work seems to deny ‘mere’ form, but one would not call it conceptual either, in the strict sense of the word. Your pieces show that they’re made with the utmost care, incorporating a great deal of care and attention to detail, to the craft. However, you’re also not a technician…

cz – The challenge is to implement the ideas in such a way that more is created than is actually visible. I am interested in a kind of ambiguity; … nothing can really be seen in only one way and no other. … I am also interested in crossing the borders to other disciplines. The borders between design, fashion and politics, art and philosophy are not static. There is movement at the margins, the boundaries are constantly being shifted, torn down and rebuilt. These boundaries interest me because something is happening there. Jewellery can be very much oriented to function and design, very expressive and personal, but it may also be conceptual – an idea. Jewellery touches on the whole spectrum; it can be anything – for the person who wears it or possesses it.

mcc – In many aspects, you seem to approach the question of meaning and significance like an anthropologist. It has to do with use. What do you see is the role of the body? How does the jewel work as a sign on the body? Why and when and how do people wear it – and is that important?

cz – It is important. I have some kind of a potential wearer in mind, someone with a certain attitude, who wants to get something out of the piece. But it’s never related to status, it relates to something much more personal. You wear the jewel or you hold the object and you behave different, you change your attitude… The object generates this tension, for yourself – but also for others.


mcc – Why do you need this ‘powerful’ object in the first place? Do you wear it (or make it) because it’s missing in the world? And it’s powerful because it refers to what is missing?

cz – Someone told me a story about this guy who bought a picture and then he hung it the other way around, turned to the wall, because it was too confrontational, too strong. But it had to be there, it was important. I think the oldest jewel must have been a piece that someone just wanted to carry around – close to the body – wanting it as something that was of significance to him or her – something that would give power. It can do so in the most subtle ways.

mcc – I’ve mentioned before that your pieces are very carefully done, that obviously incorporates labour. But they end up looking very economical, very light, in the sense that we don’t see the hard labour hammered into the piece. The craft is respectful of whatever – whatever else – is already there…

cz – If you don’t see the making, then it’s all right. I don’t like when the craft gets in the way… you did it, the work must go beyond the labour…

mcc – Six years ago you worked with Lego blocks and honeycomb in an installation in Austria, now you work with steel and with polystyrene. Does that mean you start again from scratch with each new idea?

cz – Whenever it is required by an idea I try to learn the necessary techniques, whether it be computer manipulated images or cast steel. With the polystyrene works, for example, I had no idea of how to work with this material, but I was fascinated by its qualities. Expanded polystyrene consists of tiny, originally opaque little balls, single, cell-like particles, which are made to expand tremendously through the use of steam and pressure. Finally, they condense into a shape. Cell for cell, they form a fragile body.

mcc – It’s very biological…

cz – It’s very organic, it’s about bodies…


mcc – You mean that you saw the material as metaphoric in itself?

cz – A metaphor where you wouldn’t know exactly everything that it could be a metaphor for… I became aware of this material for the first time in 1986-87, in Asia, where it floats around in even the most remote little stream. It is an universal waste product, an omnipresent product… and it is beautiful.

______________________________

(1) …’a bangle of black rubber, the interior consisting of a golden ball – like a snake with a small elephant in its body.’
original text, Otto Künzli, 1980 (a photo of this piece can be seen in the blog post about Künzli below)


I WILL WRITE THIS IN CAPS BECAUSE I AM SO EXCITED TO HAVE FOUND THIS VIDEO.

WHAT THE F*CK IS CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY? WHERE DOES IT BELONG? ONE MIGHT RECOGNIZE IT, BUT CAN ONE EXPLAIN IT? WHAT KIND OF POTENTIAL DOES IT HAVE? HOW DOES IT SPEAK TO OUR TIMES? WHAT KINDS OF LABELS ARE PLACED ON IT? IS IT FUNCTIONAL, DOES IT HAVE TO BE? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? WHEN DOES IT WORK AND WHEN DOESN’T IT? IT IS ENOUGH TO TRUST OUR EYES? WHERE DOES IT BELONG? WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING? WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT AIMS AND AMBITIONS? WHAT ARE THE  TASKS FOR THE MAKERS? HOW SHOULD THEY COMMUNICATE THEIR PROCESSES?

JEWELLERY TALK IS A SERIES OF INTERVIEWS WITH CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY ARTISTS, GALLERISTS, HISTORIANS, PROFESSORS, ETC FROM  ALL AROUND EUROPE.

MADE BY DANIELA HEDMAN AND KAJSA LINDBERG, PARTICIPANTS TRY TO PERSONALLY REASON WITH THESE AND OTHER QUESTIONS PERTINENT TO JEWELRY’S EXISTENCE IN THE UNIVERSE.

MADE IN 2006, WHAT HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST SIX YEARS? IS “BERLIN STILL A DESERT FOR CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY?” DO MORE BIG MUSEUMS “FINALLY HAVE CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY COLLECTIONS?” IS IT STILL IMPOSSIBLE TO SELL CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY IN SPAIN? HOW HAS THE WORLD GROWN? HOW HAVE DEFINITIONS CHANGED? HAS EVERYTHING ALREADY BEEN DONE? WHAT DOES OTTO KUNZLI THINK IS THE END OF “CREATIVISM” ?IN WHAT WAYS DOES KARL FRITSCH THINK MAKING ART AND MAKING JEWELRY IS DIFFERENT? WHEN CAN IT BE BOTH? ARE THERE ANY TABOOS LEFT ACCORDING TO IRIS EICHENBERG?

(pay attention to this one above ! and below for that matter!)

PLEASE WATCH IT. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ——————>  CLICK HERE

The following is an excerpt from an artist statement made my Tanel Veenre (taken from Klimt02). 

A beautiful piece of jewelry is exciting. Excitement is a quality that comes into being upon collapse of the quantifiable and measurable into the inexplicable and personal. Fleeing from gold-edged emptiness binds the artist’s soul with the thing being created. It’s all somehow wordlessly conspiratorial. Artist and jewelry become witnesses to a crime in which they are both complicit. 

Anxiety may contain embarrassment and brazenness, mockery levelled at the opinion of the court.

A talented jeweller says: The quality of the jewel is in its intellectuality. For an artist the jewel is something very personal through with he can express his concerns, feelings, idea. 

British Artists Feud Over Use of Assistants – NYTimes.com.

LONDON (AP) — Two of Britain’s art superstars are squabbling about whether it’s acceptable to use assistants to create works of art.

The argument pits painter David Hockney, just awarded Britain’s prestigious Order of Merit, against conceptual artist Damien Hirst.

Hockney uses the poster for his upcoming Royal Academy show to state that all the works on exhibit were “made by the artist himself.”

Radio Times magazine reported Tuesday that Hockney said in an interview that the comment was directed at Hirst, who has used assistants to help create some of his most famous pieces.

Hirst has said his assistants do a better painting job than he could and that he becomes easily bored. He is best known for suspending a shark in formaldehyde and covering a human skull with more than 8,000 diamonds.

DAVID HOCKNEY ≥ DAMIEN HIRST

I came across this review on AJF. It’s great. As always, what appears in bold, is worth remembering.
AT THE MFAH, IT SEEMS THAT JEWELRY≥ART 
 
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06 September 2011

ORNAMENT AS ART: AVANT-GARDE JEWELRY FROM THE HELEN WILLIAMS DRUTT COLLECTION

Damian Skinner

Cindi Strauss (ed). Ornament as Art: Avant-garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection. Houston & Stuttgart: The Museum of Fine Arts & Arnoldsche, 2007.
ISBN 9783897902732

This review was first published in The Journal of Modern Craft, v.3, n.2, July 2010, pp.269-272.

And so here it is, the enormous catalogue to the Helen Williams Drutt collection, acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) in Texas and co-published by that institution and Arnoldsche. Presided over by Cindi Strauss, curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design, the publication is an extraordinary resource, packed full of analysis, images and the tools of art history (biography, bibliography, chronology and exhibition history). Divided into four parts, the book is in some ways a schizophrenic entity, in part an homage to and documentation of Helen Drutt and her collection (and in general the important role of the collector) and in part a scholarly contribution to our knowledge about contemporary jewelry around the world. It is also – and unashamedly – an old-fashioned catalog, featuring a carefully researched checklist of the collection.

Drutt’s contribution to this project is not overlooked. She contributes a somewhat self-serving essay called ‘A Golden Age of Goldsmithing: Four Decades,’ about the importance of collectors and their role as historical caretakers, securing history in danger of being lost by acquiring objects and narratives. Drutt is also interviewed by Strauss, which, while interesting, effectively duplicates and personalizes information we have read before in Drutt’s own text.

While there is much that is impressive here, the title – Ornament as Art – establishes one of the things that remains problematic about this catalog. Jewelry, with the assistance of the concept (and mythology) of the avant-garde, will be transformed into art. As Houston MFA director Peter C. Marzio writes in his foreword, the museum acquired the Drutt collection ‘motivated by the belief that fine art transcends all media and academic classifications.’ ‘The Drutt Collection attacks traditional academic, art-historical categories,’ writes Marzio. Accordingly, ‘This subversive challenge forces us to abandon certain conventional modes of thought and to redefine ideas of sculpture, painting, decorative arts, and so forth.’ Thus, the collection is intended ‘to open up the traditional categories of artistic expression, and to welcome “craft”, “design”, and “jewelry” into the galleries.‘ It’s notable that art is neither mentioned here, nor given speech marks – but of course not, since this is the defining term. Here, jewelry becomes art by ceasing to be jewelry and therefore part of the crafts. Jewelry, it seems, is not subversive enough to tackle the hierarchies of art history, or to affect the automatic assumption of fine art’s primacy.

While it’s common to imagine that the art versus craft debate no longer has relevance, there is still a lack of sophisticated analysis about this issue. This book disappoints because, putting aside the lack of rigor in Marzio’s foreword, the promise and premise of the title is never fully tackled. The major argument about jewelry’s status as art unfolds in Cindi Strauss’s essay ‘Minimalist and Conceptual Tendencies in the Helen Williams Drutt Collection,’ in which Strauss demonstrates how minimalism and conceptual art offer ways to think about a number of jewelers collected by Drutt.

It is nicely done. Strauss notes that the interdisciplinary nature of minimalism and conceptualism made them relevant to jewelry along with other fine art and craft practices. She also saves some agency for the crafts: ‘Many jewelry artists who were active in the major art-making centers and universities during this period also embraced elements of these movements, yet it is incorrect to imply that jewelry artists active between the late 1960s and the 1980s adopted their tenets in a wholesale manner. Rather, they utilized some of the strategies in forging their own artistic identities.’ She rightly suggests that the strategies of both movements hit jewelry as part of a larger shift in the field and that jewelry was restricted in its ability to conform completely to either: ‘Because of its reliance on form and not merely idea, jewelry, whether decorative, sculptural, or born from serious design and intellectual processes, is unable to adopt these strict conditions as defined by [Sol] LeWitt and others. For regardless of artistic or intellectual associations, what sets jewelry apart from other media is that the boundary between the idea, object, and the body cannot be completely separated.’ She demonstrates that Giampaolo Babetto, for example, made jewelry closely aligned with Donald Judd’s sculpture and the work of other American minimalists: ‘Like Judd’s Specific Objects, these three-dimensional works are neither painting nor sculpture (nor jewelry) but rather self-referential works that exemplify seriality.’

And so it continues, with references to David Watkins and Gary Griffin (Minimalism) and Otto Kunzli (Conceptualism). Strauss concludes, ‘The intersection of Minimalist and Conceptual strategies with contemporary jewelry presents new frameworks for understanding jewelry, frameworks that reinforce the validity of art forms across media, regardless of function. . . . Jewelry that prioritizes ideas, whether Minimal, Conceptual or something else, refuses to be pinpointed as simple adornment. The result is that, by removing artist-made jewelry from the realm of the expected, its true nature and possibility can finally be experienced and realized.’

In actual fact, what is realized is not jewelry’s true nature but its nature as art, which means adopting a submissive and provincial relation to fine art. Discussing Babetto’s minimalist jewelry, Strauss writes, ‘The fact that they were made from precious materials and required the hand of a craftsman would have negated them ideologically in Judd’s eyes; however, the lineage of influence still remains strong.’ Jewelry, it seems, can only ever be poor Minimalism, compromised Conceptual art, which surely leads to the question: why bother making it into second-rate sculpture? Why not leave it as really good jewelry? And why not make the case that Babetto’s jewelry actually challenges the legitimacy of Minimalism’s conclusions, offers a critique of Minimalism’s limitations?

But the main problem I have with Strauss’s discussion is its restricted terms of reference. As a platform for arguing the premise of the book – that jewelry is really art, and can play with the big boys – why choose such a limited focus as minimalism and conceptualism, which at best only relates to a small portion of this collection? There would be a range of other possible ways to effect this transformation, including appropriation, relational aesthetics, postmodernism – even modernism itself would get as good and much more inclusive results. Indeed, the first section of the interview with Helen Drutt makes the case for modernism very strongly. ‘I had never seen a brooch before that could be identified so closely with the aesthetics of fine art,’ says Drutt of her first purchase, a brooch by American jeweler Stanley Lechtzin. Take modernism as a movement of philosophical propositions about art – not as an aesthetic or stylistic phenomenon – and you have the tools to argue that almost all of this collection is art.

As a reader from outside North America and Europe, one of the most notable things about this publication – and Drutt’s collection – is its geographical inclusiveness. Drutt really got around the globe, making connections overseas and getting to far-flung locales where contemporary jewelry was happily being produced. To her credit, Strauss works hard to maintain this global outlook in the book, especially in the essays on featured works in the collection. Between two and twelve pages each, these texts are well-illustrated and comprehensive introductions. Most hearteningly, they sustain the awareness of the breadth of contemporary jewelry practice happening all around the world, not just in Europe or America.

But this dynamic is hard to juggle and at times Strauss’s act comes tumbling down. In her essay ‘A Brief History of Contemporary Jewelry, 1960-2006,’ an almost impossible task, Strauss writes from a kind of moving geographic position, shifting zones as required to lay out the significant movements and ideas of contemporary jewelry internationally. The essay is focused on infrastructure, sociological information about groups and networks, exhibitions and institutions. In part it is a checklist, demonstrating the depth and breadth of the Drutt collection and revealing how this collection gathers authority through its encyclopedic coverage of jewelers who have been central to the practice from the 1960s to the present.

Yet there is also something limited about this presentation of international jewelry discourse. The Drutt collection is great because it allows for a wide range of locations for contemporary jewelry; people all over the world get a look in. Strauss also pays attention to a varied array of countries in her essay. But much is flattened, homogenized. This isn’t global jewelry discourse so much as European one masquerading as something international. The opportunity to challenge definitions of contemporary jewelry practice is again not fully capitalized on. The catholic selection of jewelers working in varied and often conflicting ways, suggests the real possibilities of Drutt’s collection to construct some kind of international jewelry discourse to which everyone is invited. But Strauss’s attention often seems to be elsewhere.

The limitations – indeed the impossibility of what Strauss and this publication set out to achieve  – is most on display in the chronology in the appendix. This heroic but ultimately doomed exercise results in a surprisingly detailed document that is at the same time extremely parochial in its concentration on Europe and America (with a sprinkling of Asia and Australia thrown in). I’m really not sure it is even meaningful to try and achieve something like this, since either everything from everywhere is included (clearly impossible) or the chronology can’t support the scope of the collection and the international story it tells.

This very interesting and impressive publication is required reading for anyone seriously involved with contemporary jewelry. The problematic aspects of it are not unexpected, since what project with this kind of grand ambition would not suffer speed wobbles somewhere along the way? But it seems to me that some of the limitations of this project are intimately tied to Helen Drutt and the way her stamp is felt everywhere in this book. What might have been possible if Drutt herself was less central to the end result? This book is a lavish celebration of an amazing collection and an extraordinary resource that the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is lucky to have. But as a monument to one woman’s activities, it becomes a flawed representation of contemporary jewelry and, for all its marvelous aspects, somehow less than one would hope for.

REFLECTIONS FROM THE BIENNALE DI VENEZIA 2011

November 27th marked the ending of ILLUMInations, the 54th international art exhibition known as the Venice Biennale. This was my first biennale.  I was fortunate enough to visit the event twice; the first time in mid September and again just this last weekend to witness the final two days of the 25 week affair. I must regretfully note that I was only able to see what Arsenale and Giardini had to offer, as I couldn’t make it to any of the collateral events or other pavilions sprinkled around the island. I know, I know, I know.

Similar to other biennales that exist on this fair planet, it is known that the general function is to showcase the asserted best of what the contemporary art world has to show for itself, pushing boundaries and conventions of other institutions like the gallery and museum. Here is a bit from art historian, critic, curator, and director of this year’s exhibition, Bice Curiger:

ILLUMInations presents contemporary art characterized by gestures that explore notions of the collective, yet also speak of fragmentary identity, of temporary alliances, and objects inscribed with transience. If the communicative aspect is crucial to the ideas underlying ILLUMInations, it is demonstrated in art that often declares and seeks closeness to the vibrancy of life. This is more important now than ever before, in an age when our sense of reality is profoundly challenged by virtual and simulated worlds. This Biennale is also about believing in art and its potential. Artists work without a safety net, and people who work with artists cannot help but be inspired, question their own assumptions, and constantly strive to do their best.

The Biennale possess the potential ability to globally summarize the qualities within contemporary artwork that curators from all over essentially value. Will patterns emerge when looking at the work geographically/regionally? How is material and hands-on execution regarded to each invited artist and to curator? Among the 89 participating countries (the number of artists each country represents is not standardized- some have one, some have a million [e.g. Italy]), and the 83 additional artists showcased in the international exhibition, I was really hoping to find some work that would speak to my interests in the maker and the thinker as one—evidence of artists able to harness the seemingly impossible duality of contemporary cultural significance through visual art and meanwhile made by hand by artist themself.

Ok, ok I’ll just say it; I was looking for signs of life within the “contemporary jewelry” world and other similar work perhaps labeled as “furniture”… just to find out whether our fields as makers are somewhere, even just a tiny blip, on the radar of these bigwig curators. I’m not talking about design and I’m not talking about craft. But I am talking about artworks that utilize craft-based traditions to communicate ideas that speak to today. I know that I haven’t so far done the best job articulating what I really believe in as far as where contemporary “jewelry” and the like meet the fine art world— but hopefully by now we do know I believe there is a semantic problem that perpetuates a disparate relationship where it is believed that one cannot be the other… but let’s not get too involved in this just yet. Instead, let’s look at artists who seemed to have figured out the secret formula to better illustrate what I mean, artists who straddle the line of which I abstrusely speak.

I’ll start with Guatemalan artist, Regina José Galindo, part of Between Forever and Never (Arsenale), presented by the Instituto Italo-Latino Americano. I will mention that I really appreciated this section of the exhibition, as each artwork included writing next to the piece itself. My opinion of communicative info next to the work has really yet to be determined- this may sound elementary; and although I do like when the work speaks for itself, I appreciate the value of the writing as a tool to understanding. Here, it is an added bit of intellectuality that in this case, assists the viewer greatly… and I also didn’t have to lug around the catalog.

At first glance, Galindo’s work provides a sense of conventional familiarity- two ordinary black pedestals with vitrines stand side by side. I can’t recall any other artworks in the entirety of the Biennale that utilize such presentational standards. The cases are reminiscent of typical display conventions seen in museums and in my opinion, passé contemporary jewelry shows that close off the work to those who wish to understand it, while also giving it a sense of preciousness and distance. It may seem that I am speaking negatively, but here we find qualities beyond that of unoriginal jewelry displays that commonly use the same devices. The blurb next to one of the works entitled, Looting (2010), affirms my suspicions that the pedestal is not just a means of display, but also is part of the work itself (this is indicated by the size description, 136x38x38 cm), a step up from the detrimental qualities this same convention afflicts on objects made within the realm of jewelry.

Inside, one can see eight little gold nuggets, interestingly described by the artist as eight tiny sculptures themselves. Also described by the blurb, Galindo “asked a dentist in Guatemala to make three openings in her molars, and inlay them with national gold of the highest purity. In Berlin, a German doctor extracted all the good fillings from her teeth. Thus, with her own body, Galindo reincarnates the operation of plundering that characterized the Europe-America relation during the period of conquest and colonization…”

This act is also described as a performance, one in which the body is a participant. As Galindo is not a dentist, it is obvious why she needed someone else to “make” the integral components of the piece. Yet here she is, using gold, her body, and formal conventions of adornment displays to communicate an idea. I wonder if Galindo knows who Lauren Kalman is. Is the consideration between these two people as artists the same? Probably not. Although I feel that Kalman to be a great exception in the studio jewelry sphere, an artist that transcends both material and labels, she ain’t in the Biennale. And even more, Galindo actually won the Golden Lion for best artist under 35 years old at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005.  Humph.

Speaking of which, Falso León (2011), shown below and also in the exhibition, is a replica of the previously won award commissioned by Galindo, made by a workshop in Guatemala. Galindo had to sell the original for money and as such, responded with this performance of getting a cheap reproduction made to comment on the practicality of being artist for a living, trying to survive as such, possession and dispossession, etc, etc.

What Galindo is doing closely resembles themes and limitations fundamental to those making good work classified as jewelers, (or in my opinion, artists that make jewelry. Will this ever be less complicated to explain?) For example, the body is inextricable to the success of the first piece. The use of material is similar, and the narrative of the piece is something that cannot escape any work made under the trope of jewelry (value, class, economic history… you name it). Yet Galindo is an artist. The choices that are being made are highlighted by the way she “outsources” the physical objects, insofar  that her idea is stronger and speaks much more than the objects themselves. The objects are stand-ins for a greater narrative. THIS IS WHAT “WE” NEED TO START PAYING ATTENTION TO AND WORKING TOWARDS.

The next noteworthy sign-of-life was curiously in very close proximity. Rolando Castellón’s (Nicaragua) Joyas de Pobre (2010) actually includes the word jewelry in the title!! Leaps and bounds, guys. Athough Castellón is no “jeweler,” this series is part of an ongoing project; this is not the first time he has made work that is highly associative to the contemporary jewelry sphere; whether he is aware of that is its very own question.

Let’s break the work down a little bit. Like Galindo, Castellón uses the same sort of unconventional display- a big case with a glass top you look down into with the work sitting on red velvet. Classic. It is indicated as an installation, similar to Galindo as well. In each of these cases, the artists are both making choices. They feel that choosing what I and other contemporary jewelers would call a fall back, a last resort, an “isn’t there anything else we can use?” type presentation standard, to aid in their message that maybe we should be associating these things to precious objects… ornament…….. jewelry.

It’s a tricky thing, really, because how one chooses to let the work live in the world (here, it is inside these cases) is synonymous to creating an environment which either successfully aids to the work’s conceptual nature, or unsuccessfully binds it to unapproachability and misunderstanding (which I feel happens all too often in my field). As non-jewelers, both Galindo and Castellón need (for lack of a better word) these cases, and in a backwards sort of way, they can lead by example when artists like me (again, “jewelers”) need to think about what kind of environments we need to be giving to our work so others better understand the message. What I guess I’m trying to say is this: while artists like Galindo and Castellón rely on display cases as tools for people to understand this work of theirs, contemporary studio jewelers need to start thinking about getting rid of them (conventional cases) and finding other ways for the work to live. For the artists, the cases are in fact not just cases– they are environments, content, associational tools, and part of the piece as a whole. How can we do the same?

Here is what Castellón’s blurb says about the work- I am going to bold the things I think area a bit… shaky:

The series of sculptures Joyas de Pobre [Jewels for Poor People] by Rolando Castellón is a set of decorative objects, elaborated from precarious materials such as tree branches, seeds, frayed fabrics, laminated coconut, stones and rusty metallic scraps that are shaped by the artist’s hammer into new assemblages, creating a series of modest jewels…”

Ok, stop. Wow! What a concept. Immediate ways of making! Found objects! Modest jewels! Sounds awful familiar. Within our world as makers, this blurb so far doesn’t really say anything new or different…WE’VE ALREADY BEEN DOING THIS INHERENTLY SINCE THE 1960’S! But because this man is an “artist”, those playing the contemporary art game are going to give him a lot of credit for this, aren’t they? And the artist’s hammer…what is that? And just how the display cases are conventions we don’t like to resort to, the language that Castellón uses is language we as real makers should also stop using; it relies too much on material and process… meat certainly, but not the whole meal. The only thing we absolutely should take away from this writing, is the word sculptures. As naive as this all sounds, and as much as I really do hate hate hate labels and boxes, we have to start using more of this vocabulary to describe our work. Let’s try to get it outside just the jewelry realm when it can go so far beyond. After all, Castellón was not the first to do this and it is a concrete example of how contemporary jewelry is completely off the radar. DOES ANYONE IN THE FINE ART WORLD KNOW WE EXIST?

“…Castellón’s project involves the recovery of the creative mechanisms of the informal street commerce in Central America, where small groups of artisans offer their objects, which though constructed by humble means from cheap materials nevertheless add color and creativity to the commercial environment of the cities. While the street commerce presents an alternative for small producers and a means of earning a living for the poorest sectors of society, Castellón’s work criticizes the region’s socioeconomic inequality, placing the jewels of the poor in counterpoint to the jewels and privileges of the rich.”

Ah, ok, now here is the concept. Castellón aims to emulate jewelry pieces or the objectives of decorative objects through scrap material and straightforward application to ultimately comment on economic inequalities, social history, lack of education, etc… I read —->elsewhere that by placing the work within the context of contemporary art spheres like the biennial, it adds to the overall concept; Castellón views these “commercial exhibition systems” as globalization. WHAT A PRIVELEDGE to be able to make a comment like that! But of course, one must be accepted, chosen to participate in the biennial for this to happen, right? What a shame, really, because those within my field not only know, but cannot ignore the fundamental relationship jewelry objects have to socioeconomics. We have to deal with it every time we make anything. It’s there and there ain’t no way around it. And it’s the same with notions of value, sumptuary, class, and the like. – And as much as I have sounded like I’m knocking down the work… well actually, yes I am knocking it down. On the verge of being redundant, WE ALREADY DO THIS. WORK LIKE THIS ALREADY EXISTS. To see more of Castellón’s Joyas, click here<—The way he deals with space here is considerably more sensitive than most “jeweler’s” have the guts to go for… but then again we rarely get solo shows, and if we do, we rarely get big spaces to play with.

Here is a short list of diverse artists that I think make work similarly, or at least highlight the main themes both Galindo and Castellón touch upon. Some use cheap materials like Castellón and some are working more traditionally with precious materials… (is material a good enough connection though?). Some are old vets and others are fresh and innovative up-and-comers. But the main difference between the following artists and artist like Castellón is the way we write about are work. “We” usually try to avoid writing textual summarizes that so clearly articulate the object’s relation to the history of value, material as concept, and socioeconomics, etc because… it is…… redundant.  The object already carries with it these connotations. Let’s pretend Castellón actually was a jeweler. If read his blurb knowing that, I would think his explanation to be quite sophomoric, especially in the way he talks about process. The tiles of the piece is succinct enough.

What is interesting is this: Castellón needs to say his sculptures are jewelry-like objects. But because the following are in fact jewelers, how often does the work speak for itself in that regard, or must they also tell you what the objects are? Perhaps if we used the word “sculpture” more often, people on the outside would consider the work we are doing to be similar concrete choices, not just making jewelry because we were trained as such. We must start to articulate bigger and better reasons for the things we make. And here we have once again, the problem that is vocabulary, when pinning labels and talk of process.  Let’s think more about the way we frame our work, shall we?

I encourage those that read this to look around. The images below are in the order that follows, and the names are all links:  Adam Grinovich, Karl FritschAshley WahbaLisa WalkerIris Bodemer, and Lauren Tickle.

STAY TUNED FOR #2

These photos are from Rome’s southern district of EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) which began to pop up slowly around 1938, originally dedicated to the projected world’s fair of 1942. As nice as that sounds, this would also have been the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Fascist era in Italy. Hooray! Mussolini and a team of fascist architects are to thank for the construction, as the plan was to move Rome’s urban expansion south-west to evidentially create a new modern city center. World War II got in the way, the fair never happened, and the project was at a halt uncompleted by 1942– it wasn’t until the 1950’s and 60’s until the original buildings were fully completed.

Let’s try to contextualize with what we’ve established in previous posts. At the time of EUR’s design, 200 or so years had passed since the birth of neoclassicism. Here’s a recap on some of the era’s accomplishments in an effort to better understand how time has transformed visual Italy at this point.

revival of antiquity / antiquity as future

more of the visual past was available

new geometrical image of the city established

symmetry/ ideal ratios

visual results detached from the originals —>degrees of separation 

process of abstraction —> concise way of defining form–>reduction to mere outline —> linear abstraction

and of course, Italian tradition 

By the time EUR’s Rationalist buildings were conceived, Italian artists and architects had basically streamlined the best of what not only neoclassicism summarized from its past, but also from the Futurists (1910-1916) and some of what the Novecento Italiano movement presented as well (1923-1943). Ideally I would like to touch on both of these epochs as well so stay tuned; this bit is merely a note I suppose, and hopefully it will assist future tidbits as I write them.

If it is not so clear already, with this blog I am essentially trying to pull together a visual timeline/a collection of artistic milestones that Italy has created throughout its history… among other things. Please forgive me if it isn’t chronological.

My sister, Katie, sent me this bit from a book called The Social Animal by David Brooks. I wonder if she knows how relevant this all really is.

“Summarizing a body of recent research, Malcolm Gladwel wrote that artists who succeed in their youth tend to be conceptual. Like Picasso, they start with a concept of what they want to achive and then execute it. Those that thrive near the end of life tend to be exploratory. Like Cezanne, they don’t start with clear conceptions, but go through a process of trial and error that eventually leads them to a destination. This is not always a passive, gentle process. In 1972 the great art historian Kenneth Clark wrote an essay on what he called the “old-age style”. Looking across the arts, and especially at Michelangleo, Titian, Rembrandt, Donatello, Turner and Cezanne, he believed he could detect a common pattern that many great elderly arists shared: “A sense of isolation, a feelings of holy rage, developing into what I have called transcendental pessimism; a mistrust of reason, a belief in instinct…. If we consider old-age art from a more narrowly stylistic point of view, we find a retreat from realism, an impatience with established technique and a craving for complete unity of treatment, as if the picture were an organism in which every member shared in the life of the whole.”—Artists take the sentiments that are buried in inchoate form across many minds and bring them to the surface for all to see. They express the collective emotional wisdom of the race. They keep alive and transmit states of mind from one generation to the next. “We pass on culture, therefore,” Roger Scruton has written, “as we pass on science and skill: not to benefit the individual, but to benefit our kind, by conserving a form on knowledge that would otherwise vanish from the world.”

The following transcript is of a portion of a chat I had on October 31 at 11:30 AM with fellow Fulbrighter in Israel/artist/furniture maker extraordinaire/partner in crime/#1 teammate/best friend, Misha Kahn. This conversion also inspired the naming of this blog.

We plan to keep archiving our conversations as such, as both of our current work, research and general interests in life are forever intertwined.

Misha Kahn: so here’s what I realized

I think, the way for craft to become art, involves this abandonment of material familiarity,

Kellie Riggs: right u told me

M:  so that the work is no longer a praise of the material, but something more

and you think

that through this material familiarity

K:  i’ve been saying that forever

M:  you can get there too

K:  well yeah

M:  so I think it’s like we are attacking a castle

from different sides

K:  ok

M:  you know?

K:  it’s true

M:  you want to get let in the main door

and it’s fucking closed and guarded

K:  I mean I think you can value the material but you cannot rely on it

it is not enough

M: and I am trying to throw a rope over the back wall

K:  I like this analogy

it is good

M: I’ve been thinking of drawing a giant map

K:  write it up

M:  of the castle

and who the guards are

K:  who are they?

M:  and who lives inside

and how we can get in

there’s… a million of them

but the people whove made craft into art have all done it through the exploitation of craft

from the standpoint of art

we have to do the same

like using craft to say something, rather than thinking we can just make these “craft” objects AND say something

because its like talking with a potato in your mouth

you can be saying something interesting but nobody will ever listen

K:   hahaha

right but i think it is also about semantics

mainly about that

M:  how so?

K:  and associations and connotations of the words we use

in our practice

like furniture

and jewelry

M:  right

we have to stop using the words

K:  it’s about how you wrap the present

right?

we have to exploit a concept

or at least an idea

primarily

M:  grayson perry described craft as a little lagoon in the ocean of art

and all the conventions of craft

K:  while harnessing the function as a concept from which to build

M:  SO here’s an idea I’ve been thinking a lot about

K:  but not relying solely on the function

just like the material

M: throughout the 20th century

craft breakthroughs

(particularly jewelry)

into the idea of conceptual art where held back because the aesthetics

were seen as merely

pirating the aesthetic of modern or conceptual art

K:  right

M:  as in, it’s still just jewelry but made in the aesthetic of modern art

because it was following and not leading

SO

on the outside, yeah perhaps

but I would argue that it is leading

M:  PERCEPTION- anyways, was that was how it was

K:  today

M: I agree it wasn’t

K: I think it is totally leading today

M: but, they didn’t get it and thought it was just stealing a style

K: but semantics holds it back

M: ok ok

let me finish the idea

K: ok ok ok

M: so, I think for it to get somewhere we have to make our own closed circle. I think we have to develop our own aesthetic language and then use if for art and craft cyclically, making functional, and non functional participate in our own little swirling rotation

K: are you talking about Salad Bar *

M: sort of

K: well, I think what you are talking about, this sort of sphere

already exists

M: gijs bakker

K: at least it does in the jewelry world

right but he’s just one guy

for example

M: I don’t think there are so many other examples

K: right now in Amsterdam I think there is a new show that facilitates interaction with the jewelry being exhibited. it is called b-side festival

and it is taking place in various venues that can directly explore a relationship with people that come to the show

M: the dutch just get it!

K: there are a million!

omg mish

the comtemp jewelry world is huge

M: That’s not what I’m talking about though!!!

K: yes it is

my point is that we need to reframe the conventions in which the work we make is shown

so people GET IT

and to align ourselves with ”ARTISTS”

for example, Lauren Kalman

M: right, but artists have and already have made art and also jewelry

K: she makes all that fucked up body shit

it’s technically jewelry rooted, most of it is made traditionally more or less

BUT it is

conceptual

and she regards herself as a VISUAL ARTIST

this actually

is all semantics

that frame her existence and her work

M: but what I’m talking about doesn’t have to do with this at all

K: then I don’t understand I think what you’re talking about is the same

we are just thinking about it in different ways

M: it’s like making a blue painting, and then making a blue necklace, and in this instance the painting copied the necklace, but then making a red painting and a red necklace and the necklace copied the painting.  But substitute the colors for something much larger. And then keep moving forward and enveloping many more media, and ideas, but always keeping this spiral going, where the relationship between these different “semantic circles”  is very open and the way in which one borrows from the other is no longer hierarchical, but by  being done within a group of a few people, it would change a large populations perception, I think

It’s different than trying to “force” people to see the jewelry as art

which it can be

K: what do you mean?

M: it becomes what I’ve always wanted to do, but now is getting a real framework in my head

so imagine Salad Bar opens a department store

K: it’s not about forcing but it’s about facilitating

and exploiting

giving it a place to live that is apt

which I think is what you are talking about

I like the idea, but it doesn’t work exactly, this whole red painting red necklace thing, I think that is forceful

M: but jewelry can’t just wind its way and end up being accepted as high art, because craft has been so marginalized in the past 50 years

K: right but I am ditching the word craft

M: it’s not that it can’t be art

K: I really don’t use it

the work maybe has a craft-based tradition, but now it is not craft any longer

M: that’s what I mean by craft

K: in the states, yes people call it that

but in Europe they do not really, not in the same ways

we are not going to get anywhere trying to say this is how craft is art!

M: I think semantics has a ton to do with it, but it doesn’t mean everything

K: it cannot be craft, it isn’t craft

M: I know I know I know I mostly agree

K: I want to talk more about the red painting red necklace thing

this isn’t going to work necessarily

M: but there are reasons we like furniture and jewelry, it’s < art, and that is a part of what makes it conceptually interesting as well

K: right

M: we have to bring those ideas in

K: but that’s like the gay ceramic boys, Lee and Ben

they make work about ceramics or ceramics about ceramics, among other work

people make jewelry about jewelry

M: right, there is a long tradition of what they do

K: and that is fundamental

M: self-deprecating craft

K: right

but at this point

it is a given! it can’t just be all the work is about

that’s like making work that only comments on the material

M: RIGHT – BUT!

K: it’s like one big inside craft joke!

that no one on the outside is going to get necessarily or care to understand

because they don’t value “craft”!

it is not enough

that is why reframing is going to work better

for example, there is all this writing being done in Italy about the value of jewelry as an expressive medium

and the writers are not whining about why it doesn’t fit into contemporary art culture

they just want to show others that it can be more and the way she is doing that (exploiting the conceptual underpinnings of the work of comp jewelry) is by basically renaming it

it’s being called research jewelry or i gioielli di ricerca

M: if you are making something that self associates with craft, in some way, it needs to talk about its own marginality, which is amazing, because the world is built on these structures

high art can never talk about real human struggles the way craft can

just because of these positions

like Judy Chicago!

feminist art HAD to use craft ideas because the whole medium just further expressed their frustrations

it cant just be whining about not being art – of course

K: I mean I agree with you

but I think later we can get back to making comments on craft

I think it is passé or something

I really do

it is limiting

M: I think it’s not commenting on craft, but using craft to comment ON SOMETHING ELSE

K: it’s always going to be the punch line

M: no no no no no no

K: you gotta stop using the word craft!

we make art god dammit

M: I’d rather call it “lagoon art”

K: it craft-based traditional application

ha

see??? It’s about naming!

it is sociological

M: or art with functional constraints

K: no no no it is not a constraint!

it is a CONCEPT

M: it is

K: THAT IS INHERANT TO THE OBJECT

M: hahaha

ok

K: ok ok?

M: but we need to make things that aren’t functional sometimes too

right?

K: and WORDS and NAMING and REFRAMING can show people that

of course!

M: just to validate that this a CHOICE

K: YES YES YES

K: absolutely

M: that’s what I was saying earlier about the red necklace and red painting

K: we need to pin the work up against work that is already valued as conceptual art

M: yes

K: that brings the work together with a common conceptual theme

so then it isn’t about the object but its about an idea

M: but what I didn’t realize before

K: and how the object communicates

M: THIS IS IMPORTANT

the artist HAS TO BE THE SAME PERSON

K: YES

see we are talking about the same thing

M: we can’t just do shows that show both together

That’s not new

K: nonono

M: we have to show artists doing both

K: ye s yes yesyes

M: even saying both seperates them!!! arrrrr

K: we can do BOTH

i know i know

M: it’s like Christianity thinking its monotheism

K: it’s tough! it really is

it is a problem

M: like nobody gets how god and Jesus and that other thing are all one thing

but that’s what we are setting out to do

K: yes

M: but about art and design and craft

K: nono

M: sorry to use the dirty words

K: not craft

M: i know i know

M: lagoon art

K: lagoon art

K: you know what fuck lagoon art

We can be real game players god dammit

K: we don’t need a extra special little name for us

M: FUCK YES

god dammit

no we don’t

K: no

M: we are in the ocean

K: we don’t

we are in the ocean!

M: CHOOSING

K: CHOOSING

M: to incorporate ideas of functionality

K: yes

M: TO FURTHER our art

K: exactly

I don’t even say functionality

M: now we have to prove it

K: know what I say?

M: WHAT ?

K: relationship

we build relationships

M: I like that

all of the work I’m making right now

K: it is good right?!

M: is about the idea of art and craft being in love

K: YOU ARE BUILDING RELATINSHIPS

M: and making portraits of each other

sorry

I used the dirty word again

K: ha it’s ok you can use it

K: I mean we have to … ease are way in

but always think about the write up

like the blurb

M: of course

K: that someone will read

what does it say?

the thing with the work you and I do, we don’t have to say too much

because

it’s a fucking necklace

or a fucking table

so that will always be there

naming is lame

and we want to pull things out of people

you know let them make their own connections

critical thinking about the objects

which is what is so great! about the work we make

because you do “use” it

so we have to encourage someone to think about how they would live with it

which they will always do, because like I said, at the end of the day

it’s also a fucking necklace or a fucking table

M: I think we just have to flesh out the rest of the picture by making paintings and “sculptures”

K: absolutely. we are visual artists

M: then it becomes a whole lifestyle

*Salad bar is a loose working term to describe an art movement in which we are co-founders and participants.  Salad Bar is used to describe the semantic separations within the art/craft/design world and our aim to put them all on the same plate. The metaphorical potential can reach seemingly unrelated work and/or mediums and/or ideas that are then tossed together, all in the name of one salad.  

The idea is characterized by but not limited to its willingness to co-opt non artist made events or works as art pieces retroactively.  It doesn’t seek to make them art through the changing of their context to a museum or gallery setting, but rather Salad Bar can be made anywhere, anytime, by anyone.  It is through our proclamation that a particular event or object is Salad Bar or that it becomes the art of Salad Bar, as well as our own ability as artists to make work that meets the dialectic standards of the idea.

As I try to piece together visual epochs in Italian art history, it has been a bit challenging knowing where to start. As such I feel it necessary to reiterate the question I posed in one of my previous blog entries. How much do I need to know… to know? This question is bound to be reoccurring, and unfortunately there is no answer here. The best one can do in such a situation is close their eyes and pick… somewhere, anywhere– as the solutions are infinite, and quite frankly, there is no wrong path to take…right? I hope so. Doesn’t anything teach you… something?

Let’s start with neoclassicism, shall we? As part of my research proposal I was granted access to use the library at the American Academy in Rome on the top of the Gianicolo. Here would be a fabulous spot in which to digress, as Monte Gianicolo is quite breathtaking as well as the academy itself, but let’s keep going. Finding this book, The Geometries of Silence by Anna Ottani Carina was accidental. Perhaps I should fib a little and pretend that I fully intended to begin with the neoclassic era in my research; either way it suits my interest in piecing back together Italy’s visual lineage, as the neoclassic era by nature, more or less, did exactly that. I must mention that this piece of writing will function as a summary of notes I took on the text in combination with my own feedback, thoughts and questions. Things that I have decided are really important will appear in bold.

Carina, the author, begins to summarize the foundations of the era and credits of course, the revival of antiquity (again!!) that followed the resurrection of buried cities like Pompeii in the mid 18th century. Similar discoveries ultimately led to the neo-revival of living “in the ancient style”. According to Carina, a new geometrical image of the city was created. Because this all happened in Italy, an unattainable perfection of the ancient world burdened Italian artists, in comparison to the dozens of Northern European or non-Italian artists who responded more quote-unquote positively. Carina describes this as the “double valence” of the ancient model—non-Italians embraced reason, history, and the persistence of the classical world, while Piranesi (an Italian!) for example, responded in a more irrational and subconscious manner.

Piranesi was one of the few artists that reacted negatively to the past, and by Carina’s logic, it was because he was an insider. I think the words positive and negative only reference a state of mind—the words can more accurately be described as reactions made by the artists that uniquely lead to manipulations and different interpretations of the visual past. The true question is, in which of these reactions lead to innovation? In which ways was the past fuel for these artists? Carina poses some questions that help to define the way the newly uncovered past could act as contemporary inspiration. Was the past a reassuring or positive myth whose authority served as a guide and a creative stimulus? Or was it a barrier whose presence paralyzed the creative impulse? The answer can perhaps be dictated by the origin of the artist.

In the mid 1770’s artists shared a common notion of ANTIQUITY AS FUTURE whether voluntary or involuntary. For some, the past was once again an intended model for aesthetic renewal, but for those like Piranesi, the weight of the past infiltrated the work in other ways. He saw the past as a burden, a perfection that could not be surpassed. In my opinion, this is where innovation and ultimately modernization struck. Carina states, “antiquity was therefore conceived as the future, in which the past, projected ahead of time, became the model for aesthetic palingenesis.” Like in the Renaissance, artists once again attempted to appropriate history and tradition in contemporary ways. Yet unlike the Renaissance, I believe a duality of accessibility and inaccessibility differentiate the eras and the work that was made. I will attempt to explain.

Archaeological excavations spurred an excitement in Italian and non-Italian artists alike, obviously more so for foreigners (the start of the Grand Tour, sketches of archeological ruins by other European artists, etc). And for the first time in history, these artists were able to see the entire site, the entire foundation, the entire fresco, etc. The visual information available during the Renaissance in comparison was more fragmented, more limited. This created repetition in artists that followed the old style, seen Raphael’s grotesque loggias in the Vatican (1517-1519) for example. His work here with others like Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano and Baldassare Peruzzi suggest a maximum stylization of relationships in their surfaces taken from these limited ancient fragments. But 200+ years later during the neoclassic era, more of the visual past was available. This may imply more straightforward replication, a potential for little interpretation or innovation, however within this new accessibility existed an aspect of inaccessibility that in turn led to different results detached from the originals. This is because artists were not actually able to view the uncovered originals of antiquity for a significant amount of time. If they were even granted access to the sights (Pompeii and the Herculaneum or Ercolano) it was extremely limited, and they sure as hell weren’t able to sketch or take note of anything. Artists then literally had to go home to recollect and draw from memory, which in turn, created visual degrees of separations from the original models, especially when artists fabricated the completion of old ruins themselves, based on fantasies or personal aesthetic and ideas. This was true for the uncovered ruins and frescos, as well as vase paintings, according to Carina. More or less unintentional, “rather than a correct interpretation of antiquity, these episodes amounted to a betrayal of it.”

MODIFYING THE ANCIENT CANON

Now let’s talk about what came out of all this or at least try to mark the changes that were being made. It would be far too complicated to talk about what all the foreign artists produced after they came through Rome marveling the ancient ruins. What I am interested in is what changed in Italian art and how it evolved as such. How did Italians interpret their very own visual history as it was being dug up before them? Piranesi is an extreme example, an exception even (he was a genius!). But what was he looking at? Talking about what this man alone produced in the 18th century requires a completely separate piece of writing, but what I will mention is the fact that he was an engraver. By the mid century, Carina notes that artists became interested in recapturing how ancient Roman paintings possessed a concise way of defining form, and artists that were engravers further accentuated these qualities by the nature of the medium. “Selecting the motifs to be engraved meant selecting those elements that, to the people of the 18th century, appeared to be essential. The result of this process of abstraction was that the complexity of the pictorial substance became reduced to its mere outline. And like I said before, access to the original sites and objects was limited, and artists then looked and copied from these engravings of ancient ruins or motifs. Here we have more degrees of separation. What begins to appear is a new minimal visual vocabulary from which to build on– an 18th century abstraction that focused on linear qualities. A combination of a lack of chiaroscuro that eliminated depth and dissociation from nature created more of an anti-realistic artistic language for artists. Carina mentions the fantastical yet knowledgable drawings of decorative painter, Pietro Antonio Novelli, when making this point.

An example of this fragmented process can be seen in various reproductions of engravings copied from Etruscan vases. Some of these copies can be described as “far more advanced in the direction of linear abstraction than any paintings or drawings executed until the 1790’s.” The concise and abbreviated style can seen in the reproductions included in the d’Harcanville catalogue (Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honorable Wm. Hamilton 1766-67. The catalogue is a seminal work on Classical antiquities, mostly vases published in the 18th century), for example, may have been copied from Italian artists like Giuseppe Bracci (I am currently trying to find more information on him) and similar artists who first copied these vases, according to Carina. These images implied the work that was to come at the end of the 18th century that was executed in a new “conceptual style” able to “breakdown the perception of the image based on the illusionary optics introduced by the Renaissance.”

 Now we have begun to establish an aesthetic shift and pinpoint some of the qualities found within ancient works that were to be developed, exaggerated or disregarded as the images passed through the eyes of different artists. Another example found within the work of an Italian can be seen in the creations of Felice Giani (1758-1828). Giani was a painter that specialized in decorative work, as he designed interiors while developing a unique ornate vocabulary. He used repetitive techniques, similar to the decorative work of Raphael and his team in the loggias, yet he is noted as someone who reclaimed preeminence or value in designing decorative interiors. Carina mentions that during his time (late 1780’s and onward) decorative painting was competitive. Due to minimal costs, excellence in application, and fast execution, innovation in style developed. And because Italian features were not easy to export (frescos for example were difficult to execute in places like England due to weather, so not only were they not replicated but they also were not frequently seen because they were commissioned by private individuals in residences), new more modern characteristics were unique to Italy. Other factors included an ongoing dialog with the patron, as interior spaces were custom built. The fascination with antiquity as future was a mutual interest valued by both artist and patron, and were rooted in a local Italian tradition.

Like any good neoclassicist, Felice Giani was inspired by the relationship with the models of antiquity and the ways in which they were presented during the Renaissance. He was inspired by Raphael and his contemporaries, yet he further “intended to defend the new criteria of functionality and comfort against any showy or luxurious features”, made able by his concise and communicational strengths. He is described by Carina as being such an innovative artist that he was “able to undermined a hierarchical relationship that had been in force for centuries [painter, designer, decorator, architect, etc]…Giani revolutionized relationships.” This was in part to how he organized and directed his bottega, made up of men of many trades such as quadraturisti, sculptors, stuccoists, carpernters, etc. “Preeminence of the painter over the architect and the quadraturista that constituted the Italian variation of the theme of interior decoration, a variant where the leading role was reserved for painting.” This is important because decorative work has always been considered secondary, and again, the structure of the Italian workshop was unique to the rest of Europe. This is seen in site specificity of frescos (work in situ in Italy) and the much less hierarchical organization of roles; Giani’s workshop primarily dealt with decoration of a space and he did not work with metal, the building of staircases, fireplaces, or any of the interior architecture etc.

I think Giani was worth mentioning for a few reasons.

Reason one: decorators or designers of this era (or really any…) are rarely mentioned in art history. And since the work I do is roughly considered to be a cousin of such frivolous or minor art, I would also like to give this guy come credit for being relatively contemporary.

Reason two: Like I said before, Giani’s style was developed by the limits of his trade, insofar as the work was nonexportable and rooted in local traditions, branding it as specifically Italian.

Reason three: The decorative work of interiors is much less known in Italy in general and as such, great examples remain to be practically unknown. Those that are, tend to “possess particular characteristics and are frequently extraordinary,” states Carina. This I would say is because of the nature of the decorative arts, in combination with the philosophy behind neoclassicism. We can describe it as a summary, much like how the previously mentioned engraving examples were also summaries; definitive and specific reinterpretations that mark what was stylistically coveted by both artist and patron.

So how does Italy choose to summarize itself overtime? This bit aims to find specific attempts. The rest of the book, however, is about non-Italian painters and their respective innovations … but they were indeed, in Italy. What can we learn about Italy and the ways that it had existed in its past and relative present, that influenced innovation of the outsider? Is this important? Surely. But Italy’s inspiration was involuntary, a natural progression of sorts, that valued a traditional past and hand-made production. Carina references what is called a leapfrog syndrome, which occurs when a generation recognizes its cultural models in ancestral precedents rather than its immediate predecessors.  The neoclassic era applies to this, yet couldn’t one argue that Italy’s immediate predecessors are its ancestral precedents, because of Italy’s maintenance of it’s own visualy history? Is there really any distinction?

‘At Cross Purposes? When Art History Meets Design History’ | Unmaking Things. <—- an excellent review of the Courtlauld Institute Research Forum’s conference on the relationship between Art History and Design History (Oct 22). Posted by RCA’s blog.

This bit of text raises questions pertinent to my own research regarding semantics and categorization. Is there really such a great divide between “fine arts” and “decorative arts”?

Some highlights :

 “Using contemporary writing on craftsmanship and artistry Marta Ajma argued that there was no conceptual distinction between ‘fine-art’ and ‘decorative’ or ‘manufactured’ arts during the Renaissance.”

What was interesting was that whilst the conference papers explicitly identified difference in subject matter as the defining characteristics of Art and Design History, they only ever implied that the two fields are also distinguished by approach. “

<—-click here to read the whole article 

On the second day of my Fulbright Orientation (Oct 27), Tom Rankin gave our group a tour of contemporary Italian Architecture. And although, in theory, that would be real great to talk about here, I would really just like to post THIS INSTEAD. Fausto dell Chiaie was chilling outside of the Ara Pacis Augustae on Via di Ripetta. The whole block was lined with little somethings like this. This guy is CLEVER. He seems to be known around town— look him up. These here were some of my favorites. Did I mention before I really adore good one-liners?

 

this is him !

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<—-he was right across the street!!