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Seeing Estonia through Cult Jewellery: Reflections of the exhibition, Estonishing ! 13° from Estonia

To highlight the opening of Estonishing ! 13° in Tallinn that happened on the 16th of November 2016, I’m posting this text I wrote originally for SIRP magazine that was translated into Estonian. Here it is in english for the first time. The original debut of this exhibition took place at SCHMUCK 2016 in the Handwerksmesse in Munich, Germany, 24.02 – 01.03.2016

text by Kellie Riggs

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The Contemporary Jewellery community is not big, but it is unique. It remains to hover somewhere above other, similar creative fields like fashion, design, art and craft. Never quite assimilating, it is instead a combination of the four, taking the best aspects from each of these groups back to its own special atmosphere and turning it into something amazing. The field, its artists and community all can feel like a well-kept secret hidden in plain sight. But in fact, it spans every continent on the globe, found tucked in pockets and hubs rich with cultural relevance and a collective will to express and adorn.

It is one week a year in Munich, Germany that contemporary jewellery’s modesty steps aside and the field (both cultural and academic) is able to come together as one global community acting as a fortified front. It shows the best of itself in broad daylight. Its members flock from every corner of the world, becoming pilgrims. And the jewellery on display itself become relics, housed in specially created spaces that only Munich Jewellery Week can inspire and cultivate. It is all rather cult, as its followers – students, artists, enthusiasts, and collectors alike – have a specific kind of admiration and devotion that can be felt buzzing on the streets of Munich from exhibition to exhibition.

Over the course of the last ten years, Munich Jewellery Week (as it has only recently been known to be called, coinciding with the SCHMUCK event) has grown exponentially. Starting with around ten collateral exhibitions throughout the city in 2006, MJW 2016 boasted over seventy. Whether they are academic classes or artist-run collectives, many diverse international jewellery groups come to show what they do via independent or gallery represented exhibitions. And when done right, they are able to demonstrate particular cultural tendencies in jewellery at large, and illustrate more sensitive cultural perspectives through the particular expressiveness that jewellery provides. Good Contemporary Jewellery is always a lens through which to look into the subtleties of other cultures, national or local, big or small. It is an irreplaceable means to understand how different cultures or subcultures feel about certain elusive subjects – many of which are quite intimate – as jewellery is a relatively intimate affair to begin with.

So what does it mean for jewellery to be from a certain place? From Estonia? What kind of illustration does the world have of this country through the jewellery that comes out of it? I myself can only speak to an outsider’s perspective and reflect on the impression that’s been made in places like Munich where Estonian artists have been able to show face together against the backdrop of a contrasting cultural framework. In one way or another they act as a collective ambassador, providing one of the few and probably most profound windows through which one can catch a glimpse of this fascinating (and largely mysterious) land. In all actuality, Estonia and Estonian Contemporary Jewellery remain the subject of intrigue in the international Contemporary Jewellery community; there seems to be a special kind of force field that surrounds it, one that recalls magic and evokes a curious kind of arousal.

This year in Munich, Estonian jewellery artists could be found in many places. The work of Nils Hint, more blacksmith than jeweler, was included in one of the highest quality international exhibitions in the city, (IM)PRINT. Three of the more internationally prolific artists were selected for the prestigious juried SCHMUCK exhibition that takes place every year in the Handwerksmesse Exhibition Hall: Kadri Mälk, Tanel Veenre, and Linda Al-Assi. And Darja Popolitova, who just recently graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts, was selected for the congruent TALENTE exhibition. But somewhere within the maze of uninspired booths of international jewellery galleries that surrounded these shows, the real gem could be found: the exhibition, “ESTONISHING !”, presented by Thomas Cohn Gallery, co-curated by the gallerist himself, and artist, Tanel Veenre. The magnetism of the work of this group of Estonian artists was so strong that it could be felt in São Paulo, Brazil (where Mr. Cohn is located), and convincing enough to come together for exhibition in Munich. As far as I know, it was also Mr. Cohn’s first year presenting the gallery at the Handwerksmesse, which is a big deal.

That right there is magic. Some kind of supernatural connection brought these seemingly disparate people together. And speaking of connection, what is it that connects these thirteen Estonian artists to one another? I find this question to be often reoccurring, as there is some kind of pull, something very grounded, something only sensed but invisible, that ties Estonian work together in a way that is so unique, it is simply not found in other Contemporary Jewellry circles in other countries. They appear spiritually united, and at this point in the history of Contemporary Jewellery, this is now universally recognized. But how?

This very question of connection was precisely what Veenre sought to examine when organizing the exhibition. He asked: Is it patience, an endeavour for holiness, assurance, or hope that connects us? Is is melancholy? These questions are perhaps not meant to be solved, rendering a smart and lyrical way to ask the viewer to really look into the jewellery on display and investigate their vulnerability and universality.

This is an intriguing question, and quite a responsible line of inquiry considering whom it’s coming from. Throughout the years, Veenre has not only unofficially been the spokesperson for Estonian Jewellery as a whole by giving a face and a voice to this special sect of the jewellery field to international eyes and ears – but he is also one of the few brave artists in general leading the way for change and new relevancy for the field of Contemporary Jewellery as a whole, by more closely associating it to other art and cultural genres. And as such, the Estonian team has followed with a reputation of taking itself seriously (having high quality exhibitions, publications, and have created a solid identity) while working with and enjoying a special sense of fantasy, mysticism and poetry that is always captivating and uniquely their own.

Some of the more intriguing and relevant work included in ESTONISHING ! came from Nils Hint, a younger face in the field that is getting noticed on an international level more and more steadily for his flattened iron work. He takes ready-made tools like wrenches from the scrap yard to join and then flatten using a power hammer and other blacksmithing techniques. The more striking pieces in this exhibition however were those more three-dimensional, utilizing iron elements as means to draw. Purposefully phallic or cross-like objects (like his Mahine1 (Manful) brooch, forged iron, 2015) were created to imply a “childish or primitive kind of street art, like dicks drawn on the wall,” says the artist.

Alternatively, Ketli Tiitsar and her Teine Olemus (Second Nature) brooches and necklace, made from ash wood, silver, pigment (2016) added a more internal sensibility to the show. The pieces, visually delicate and alive speak about Tiitsar’s personal memory utilizing materials from places that she knows, in an intimate manner of speaking. The wood recalls her family’s tradition of cutting firewood to heat their home, and in a sense she carries on with that repetitive tradition through her practice while paying respect to it at the same time. They are also very hip and modern pieces which is an excellent juxtaposition to the sentimentality involved.

Maarja Niinemägi’s simple and elegant engraved stone brooches, Ööparved (Night Floats), are also noteworthy for their pure and natural qualities. Essentially collages made from milky opal, buffalo horn, mother of pearl, silver and gold (2013), they are made to inspire a sense of grouping and collective metaphorical floating.

Although just three examples here, from the outside, it looks as though it must also be nature that connects most of these Estonian jewellery artists. What runs true and deep in someone sometimes goes personally unnoticed or unsaid because it is so much a part of them; their bond to nature didn’t need to be verbalized to be felt.

And what about the connection made by their fearless leader, Kadri Mälk? Veenre poses this question as well, as all the artists are alumni of the Estonian Academy of Arts from the jewellery and Blacksmithing department, twelve of the thirteen being Mälk’s former students. The veneration of this woman, who has been a professor at EAA for a long long while, reverberates far beyond the confines of Estonia and is inextricable from the work of any of her alumni no matter how far it travels. Needless to say Mälk herself was also a part of this exhibition, her dark pieces swirling with qualities of secrecy and fascination seem to provide us a window into her soul. This characteristic, rarely found to be so strong in Contemporary Jewellery, illicits a feeling of witchcraft and seduction, further breathing life into the cult-like nature Estonian Contemporary Jewellery possesses. It is safe to say that today’s Estonian jewellers are their own leg of the jewellery cult (Cult Jewellery, let’s go on to call it), and they have the world’s attention.

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Nils Hint

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Maarja Niinemägi

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Ketli Tiitsar

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The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue designed by Asko and Julia Maria Künnap. In addition to presenting the work, each artist reveals something about themselves through one Estonian word and an illustrative image.

Curators: Thomas Cohn and Tanel Veenre

Participating artists:
Kadri Mälk, Tanel Veenre, Piret Hirv, Kristiina Laurits, Villu Plink, Nils Hint, Sofja Hallik, Eve Margus-Villems, Darja Popolitova, Maria Valdma, Julia Maria Künnap, Maarja Niinemägi, Ketli Tiitsar

The design of the exhibition is a collaboration by all the participating artists.

Supporters: Thomas Cohn, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Susan Cummins, Helena Pahlman, Mart Kalm, Law Office Ehasoo&Partners, SA Noor Ehe, Emil Urbel

What Is It That You Do Exactly? | Art Jewelry Forum <—- click here!

forever young at gallery spektrum, 2012

HELLO READERS!  So happy to announce that after months of waiting, the article I wrote for AJF is finally published on their site. It addresses the lack of categorization within contemporary jewelry work and experiments with trying to do that by breaking apart the different types of exhibitions that we have. Give it a read and tell me what you think.

Here’s a quote I used from Bruce Althsuler to try and demonstrate contemporary jewelry’s relatively slow pace when it comes to dealing with new categories:

Institutional structures created at an earlier time to meet different needs are being called into question by new artistic media and by the use of the term contemporary to designate a particular kind of artwork. Alternative conceptions of the artwork and new technologies have created special problems of preservation and conservation. Broader social and political changes have generated new artistic categories and have broken down established national and ethnic divisions, all of which have affected how collections are built and their contents organized.”

(From Collecting the New) 

Looking at past and current exhibitions is one way we can begin to think about breaking down how we consider and value what is being made. It’s like working in reverse. Whether the exhibition initiative is institutional or independent, and even if the distinction between assembling, selecting, and curating is lost on exhibition organizers (as it most often is), sorting through various shows and analyzing the associations being forged between pieces and their authors can help us see more clearly what kind of work exists within the field. If certain exhibition types help us identify subgenres within contemporary jewelry, then makers and writers may subsequently discover better ways of defining the work at hand and explaining it to others. 

(quoting myself above)

Thank you both Damian Skinner and Benjamin Lignel for editing this piece

In mid May a friend and I took a day trip to Ferrara to eat some good pumpkin ravioli. When wandering around, we stumbled on a surprisingly good exhibition entitled, VIOLENCE, L’arte interpreta la violenza (art interprets violence). The following images are select works from the show. I kindly encourage you to ask these questions while looking:

IS THIS ART OR IS THIS JEWELRY?

OR IS IT NOT THE SAME GOD DAMN THING?

Curated by Lola Bonora and Silvia Cirelli, the group show was part of the XV Biennale Donna, or Woman Biennial , and located in Ferrara’s Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (or PAC Museo). If not already clear, the works shown do not belong to the realm of contemporary jewelry, YET THEY COULD. On the surface, both pieces are obviously aesthetically linked to similar work being produced by artist-jewelers, and when more thoroughly investigated, their conceptual underpinnings act as confirmation to the relationship between the two realms.

Had this work been a part of a contemporary jewelry exhibition and the artists from a background of jewelry as well, how would the framework of the show been different? The first image, Peso (or Weight), 2006, is by Regina José Galindo, a performance artist I have previously mentioned on this blog because of her similarities to practices found in art jewelry, namely her devotion to the body. Peso is described as a framed lambda print on forex, made singular by the physical absence of the chained object that adorns the wearer in the photo. If Galindo were a contemporary jeweler, I would be willing to bet the object itself would also have been on display. Whether or not Galindo would have hypothetically made the chain by hand perhaps does not matter in this case due to the strong visual connotations the piece carries with it. The audience would also probably know whether or not she had done so, as the written framework usually highlights this aspect and more clearly communicates the materials used when it comes to conceptual work in jewelry. If it wasn’t hand made, the chain would have most certainly been indicated as a found object. In the present context however, the audience knows nothing of make or material and that’s because it really doesn’t matter. As such, the idea, the message and the visual impact is all the more highlighted and not weighed down by material discourse like it so often is in contemporary jewelry.

Below is a similar work of artist Gisbert Stach entitled, Fitting, 2008, a 29 minute video showing a woman being repeatedly adorned with chains until she is holding 30+ pounds of weight on her upper body. This piece was not a part of VIOLENCE. 

Fitting was a piece included in the exhibition What’s in a Frame?, a collateral show during Schmuck 2012 in Munich. Although part of a contemporary jewelry fair, here we can also ask ourselves, IS THIS JEWELRY OR IS THIS ART? When considering work like this, especially in relation to a piece like Galindo’s, the question becomes almost unnecessary and silly. I’ll mention that chains  adorning the woman in Stach’s film were also not on display. Like Peso, they simply did not need to be; Fitting was much more about the collective power and physical burden. Gisbert can be described as a trans-disciplinary artist heavily tied to contemporary jewelry yet is not limited to any particular medium. He also regularly makes work with Rose Stach and they exhibit as a duo.

Naiza H. Khan’s installation for VIOLENCE included four galvanized steel armor sculptures entitled, Armour Suit for Rani of Jhansi (2008), Armour Lingerie IV (2007), Armour Lingerie V (2007), and The Robe (2008), as well four photographs from the series, New Clothes for the Emperor. When considering if Khan’s works had been part of a contemporary jewelry show, the audience would probably assume that the artist had personally made the armours, but here we do not know, and again, it is not so important. I myself would be interested to know one way or the other; kudos to Khan if the metalwork was done herself. Is the question of who made the work a shared curiosity or is it my background as a jeweler that has sparked this interest? As a maker, I also walked around the hanging armours and thought about how well or not-so-well they were made. This is another typical discourse in contemporary jewelry when distinguishing weather the work is good or bad, but in this scenario, it hardly matters.

Below is a poor photograph of the write up for Khan’s work.

The show’s specific theme of violence meant that most of the included work had a strong and central tie to the physical body, an obvious fundamental seen in the most interesting works within  conceptual jewelry practice. Although much less visually linked on an obvious scale, I found Galindo’s prints, No perdemos nada con nacer (2000) to be similarly relevant. Like Khan, the use of photo documentation as an effective tool for reading the work remains to be underutilized in works in jewelry artworks. Here we can take note and follow the example of how Galindo gives her work a very specific environment that without which would fail to mean much of anything.

Yoko Ono’s adaptation of her 1965 performance,  Cut Piece, can also be abstractly tied to the world of jewelry. The performance, which included a seated Yoko Ono and an invitation for members of the audience to come on stage one by one to cut off pieces of her clothing, emphasize the necessity of interaction as the functioning role to the success of an artwork. “Yoko Ono’s body becomes in itself the performance with an exchange of roles where the spectator is turned into the protagonist,” states the writeup; the point of which mimics the inherent foundation of jewelry objects once adorned and living in the world. The statement also mentions subordination, the passivity of women and the lightening of spirits, concepts that are historically buried beneath jewelry’s societal past, truths that can almost always be dug up from any jewelry object if looking to find it.

Loredana Longo’s site specific installation for VIOLENCEFloor#5 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, utilizes recognizable, found materials (once worn clothing) and visitor participation to communicate the magnitude of a past event. Longo shares the sentiment that her work is not complete until truly engaged, the same way that some jewelry artists only see their work as complete when worn on the body. Tactile and physical demands are present and therefore imperative, tampering with the approach to the artwork that ultimately exploits a specific emotional ingredient and connection. Here is one strong example of where visual art and contemporary jewelry share a common ground.

Lydia Schouten’s installation, A Virus of Sadness, is also worth mentioning here. I think it poses questions to the likes of whether contemporary jewelry works could ever rise to a similar occasion and demand a larger and more thougful framework for exhibition. Do objects, small ones at that, harness the same capabilities to tell a story like this? Works in jewelry are capable of being equally confrontational. Are we interested in thinking bigger?

Perhaps the biggest question to ask is whether or not a contemporary jewelry artist like Stach or anyone else working similarly (Shari Pierce could have kicked some ass in this show particularly, Christoph Zellweger and Hilde De Decker are worth noting for thinking more abstractly exhibition wise… just to name a few) would ever be included in an contemporary art exhibition. After all, our world exists on a parallel and basically invisible track to the fine art world. We need some cross pollination. But first, and like I said earlier, we need to think bigger. Taking cues from exhibitions like VIOLENCE will benefit just about everyone, jewelry related or not.

Shari Pierce, detail of 300 Sex Offenders from Within a 5 mile Radius, installation

Shari Pierce, Detail of 300 Sex Offenders Body Piece

Blue and White Jean Dress with Small Blue Flowers, Age 42: USA, Part of She LL Project

http://www.sharipierce.com/shell_project_archive.html

If one was to compare the display conventions of the Pinakothek’s contemporary jewelry collection to that of other international art museums, there is an obvious standard. Although the Pinakothek’s devoted environment is extremely spacious and impressive, the shared standard is still a banality that unfortunately extends its reach all too often. Whether elevated off the ground on pedestals or vertically assembled against a wall, seeing works in jewelry behind glass is almost always the norm (the MFA Boston, MAD NYC, the V&A in London, click —> here for a nice video about the Pinakothek’s collection…). It can be said that the usually plentiful pieces that make up a series for exhibition have to be installed; the space is curated in a straightforward manner that normally remains indifferent to the work and its ideas as dictated by the limitations of the cases. It’s a unique problem, summarized well by Liesbeth den Besten in her book, On Jewellery, A compendium of international contemporary art jewellery.

The museum showcase stresses the preciousness and uniqueness of a piece of jewellery. When an object or a piece of jewellery enters a museum collection its appreciation is changed. Its significance has increased but so has its isolation. The glass vitrine hinders the creation of meaning : the object now has an art status.

But does it really, or is it a perfunctory illusion? Does gaining an art status really mean obscuring the object’s very own conceptual underpinnings? No, I don’t think so, yet in the case of jewelry it is an excepted turn of events. One could argue that the museum’s role is to enhance the qualities of uniqueness, not push them back, yet if the artist does not present this necessity, and many do not, then how much framing of the work is required of the museum as an institution? This is where my head starts to hurt. It’s like thinking about space or something, posing questions that no one can really answer. If one refers to my “Cosmology” of contemporary jewelry, there are arguably very different categories of work being made in the field, all with different motivations that extend beyond the guise of the word jewelry. As Stefano Marchetti recently told me, some work dies behind the glass, and some work dies outside of the glass. Considering all of that while also understanding that the potential life of any jewelry work is so much more infinite than a painting’s for example (sure, you can put the painting anywhere, but a jewelry work can be taken anywhere and simply given to anyone and so on and so forth), is where things get even more complicated. Interestingly enough, this aspect does add to the uniqueness of our field, just like its inability to be easily defined, explained and labeled. I often wonder if individual preference by artist is being met, or in which ways the artist values the lives of their pieces (I have an old blog post that address this issue a bit, read it —> here). Are museums really doing the individual pieces justice? Depends on who you talk to. Perhaps the museum’s most pertinent role thus far is to simply yell, “HEY, YOU! THESE THINGS EXIST!”

 Step by step by step.

Also in the Jewellery Talks film, art historian, curator, writer and lecturer Mònica Gaspar Mallol, talks about the duality of life inside or outside the glass.

Well, if I have to tell you my background, I come from a family of art gallerists, so for me art was something always hanging on your wall or something out of your reach. I was always interest in what you can use and what you can touch and what you can make your own. So I think that since I finished my studies in art history, I went directly for this field, I didn’t have an intermitted stage with other disciplines. That’s always a very interesting conflict that not only jewelry, but any object has. The moment you put something behind the glass, somehow you betray the nature of the object. You make it sharable, you can show it with the rest of the world, but the whole nature of use, of meaning and attachment with the owner or with the collector, somehow gets lost. So I think it’s very interesting the potential that jewelry has being worn on the body, which is almost the worst place to appreciate the piece of jewelry, it’s the worst place you can put an object to really see it and understand it because the body is in movement, you have so many other inputs that can distract you from the perception of the object; it’s very interesting and very paradoxical that the body actually is the best place.

Ok, so if we’ve decided that the museum elevates the work to an art status by negating the very idea behind it, when do others get to fully understand the power of the artwork? Islanders (remember, contemporary jewelry as a small and uncharted island) recognize the potential of the work, as they see time, thought, research and tactile relationship without having to touch. Chances are they know a little (or a lot) about the person who made as well. To islanders, the glass remains satisfactory, after all, their piece is in a museum. If Monica Gasper is right, the body isn’t necessarily so ideal as a place of exhibition either. Of course everything changes and it goes far beyond the technical problems of movement, etc that she mentioned. It’s also likely that the average person never actually gets to touch or wear or experience the piece to begin with; it’s an all too rare exchange left to collectors/buyers whether independent or from other contemporary jewelry galleries. More talking to ourselves. If it isn’t in the glass case and it isn’t on the body, then where the hell is it that those on the outside get to fully understand that these objects are more than precious relics or avant-garde accessories?

THE ROLE OF THE GALLERY EXHIBITION

As a city and center for quality museums and contemporary art, Munich also boasts some well-known contemporary jewelry galleries within its mix. In the case of Schmuck, additional spaces are created to house collateral gallery events, either as extensions of existing international galleries or independently run pop-ups. Because this entry serves to reference the specificity of Schmuck, it will avoid commenting much on the bigger name contemporary jewelry galleries that usually participate in Schmuck’s fair-like aspect; this year Galerie Marzee, Galerie Ra (Holland) and Platina (Sweden) presented themselves in this sense with set-ups adjacent to the Schmuck exhibition in the Handwerkmesse. I will also note that in general, the roles of these established and often quasi-historical galleries serve more similarly to that of the museum and are part of their own, unique system that includes a few exceptions to that very system.

Two of the more known Munich-based jewelry galleries that I was able to visit during Schmuck week were Galerie Handwerk and Galerie Spektrum, showcasing contrasting yet equally interesting exhibitions, despite my resistance to believe so. Handwerk’s show, entitled Die Renaissance des Emaillierens, boasted a list of artists too long to name (click –> here), all of whom are making innovative works with enamel. Usually with a list that extensive I normally get a bit… frustrated, yet all of the work seemed to be carefully selected so as not to appear that the gallery simply invited every single artist living on the island who uses the stuff (even though they might have). Enamel use is a common traditional element in jewelry that doesn’t see the light of day much anymore and obviously it was the exhibition’s common denominator. A show based on material is usually another ingredient for frustration but somehow frustration never ensued. Perhaps it was because most of the selected artists seemed to transcend the qualities of the material in contemporary modes, as enamel can easily connote a statement of “I’m old, irrelevant and boring.” Here is where the show rationalizes itself, an example of good curation even within a theme as banal as “what the pieces are made of.” Other antidotes to a headache include a combination of the gallery’s size (the space is enormous and spans two stories with an open floor-plan), the quality of the individual work, and the space given around each piece. Nothing was overcrowded, as it tends to often be. The gallery clearly respects the work, even though the pieces were once again bound to glass vitrines.

Here I find myself a living contradiction, as again, I was not releasing steam as I moved around the space peering into the protective display cases. I imagine this was so because Galiere Handwerk does not proclaim to be a mecca for contemporary art jewelry. It is not trying too hard to experiment with “new” display that often ends up being just as boring and unconventional as the traditional predecessor. In this sense, Handwerk acts more like a museum while employing a much greater level of education and communication because it is indeed a gallery, with someone present to talk to you about the individual works. Here is Galerie Handwerk’s blurb, absent of fuss and grounded in a special locality:

A showcase for Bavarian trades and crafts, the gallery is devoted to conveying to the general public an idea of the outstanding skills of today’s craftsmen and women and the contribution they make to society.

Mounting seven exhibitions a year, the Galerie Handwerk gives the crafts a highly visible presence on the Munich scene. The exhibition topics reflect all the diverse functions of the crafts in culture and society. They range from applied art and artisanry, through the trades and architecture, the maintenance of protected monuments, and folk art, down to design education and training curricula in the trades. The presentations cover traditional, classic and avant-garde approaches. And they extend beyond regional developments to those taking place on a national and international level. As this implies, the gallery makes a significant contribution to the dissemination and advancement of artisanship worldwide.

Fine, great even. I suppose one could say that Handwerk views this jewelry work to be that of the avant-garde. As it was a good opportunity to see pieces in person (however limited) by legendary and upcoming artist/jewelers (Pavan, Marchetti, other Italian greats alongside more internal and personal works by Carolina Gimeno and Kaori Juzu, just to name a few) Handwerk’s model as a gallery is old and of little interest to my search for contemporary new platforms that want to showcase relational aspects of work being made in the field. Even so and speaking within a very jewelry as (just) jewelry perspective, it was an impressive collection at the very least. The gallery clearly values the pieces as precious relics, and that is not untrue, of course, but my interests are less of how jewelry remains to be related to tradition and craft, and much more of how the field also (or instead) relates to contemporary art.

In contrast to Handwerk, Galerie Spektrum plays in a different ball game that deals more heavily with the artist’s overall concept by aiming to exploit it. Generally, a better example of conceptual recognition within an exhibited series is almost always seen in solo shows, if one can nail one down.

Ruudt Peters’ exhibition Corpus showcased a ring of black cloaks hanging from the ceiling, an installation seen before at Galerie Rob Koudijs last September. Peters is known for taking advantage of space to communicate the fundaments of his works, which this specific installation certainly does. Historically speaking, Peters was one of the first to be recognized for new and innovative display conventions (in 1992 his Passio series, for example, included an exhibition where he also enclosed hanging fabric from the ceiling to the floor around the floating pieces so that one would have to gently find their way in to view the work).

If one was lucky enough to attend the opening at Spektrum on the Sunday afternoon in which the exhibition commenced, Peters was in attendance gifting fragmented brooches of the pieces on show  to those patiently waiting in the long line outside. Spektrum is teeny-tiny, the line to get inside was inevitable. Instead of letting the special restrictions limit the extent to which Peters was able to expose the work’s social ingredients, he used it to his advantage. Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview I had with Peters with regard to how the performance quality in his actions can be seen as a singular artwork.

Ruudt: I asked everyone if they wanted a present, and then I gave one, and I said oh, you want –and I put it on your jacket or whatever, so I put it on everyone. But finally, I had this show of the Corpus Christi [on Sunday], and in every church on Sunday they give you the [eucharist]… I never can do it in my whole life again, a giving a present to someone, because then I kill my whole concept.

Me: And so do you see that act, that day, you doing that, as a work in and of itself?

Ruudt: Yeah. 

Ruudt Peters is interested in building a bridge off the island, he always has been, with work like this serving as a testament. He values the power of his objects, they are charged and are made to charge others, both tactilely and tactfully.

Spektrum values this too. During my visit I spoke briefly with co-founder, Marianne Schliwinski, about installation from the perspective of the gallery. She talked about how the gallery always tries to get the artist to use the full space, as exhibiting at Spektrum is also an invitation for the artist to think about their work in bigger terms or how an installation can also be their work at the same time. Schliwinski said that the opportunity asks the artist to learn more about his or her own work and how it might exists in a new environment, which can be very insightful for the artist, the gallerist and also the public. She paralleled this to self-publication, “it’s like if you do a catalog by yourself you have to reflect about your work… it’s easier to get in front of these unknown people if you have an overview.”

The unknown people are the audience, the public, people who may or may not know so much about the generalities of contemporary art jewelry. Schliwinski wants to communicate to these unknowns and wants to make the information of the artists and the ideas behind the work assessable. Here might be an example of how we are not talking to ourselves.

Interestingly, Spektrum hosted another exhibition simultaneously entitled, FOREVER YOUNG, 30 Jahre Galerie Spektrum (30 years Galerie Spektrum), a self-explanatory retrospective with corresponding photos of the gallery’s artists taken thirty years ago next two singular pieces in the outside display window. Works inside the gallery were crowded together on shelves behind glass, almost mimicking objects found inside a curiosity cabinet. Because of the nature of the show itself, a declared collection of pieces spanning three decades before, the display was forgivable and felt more like a treasure hunt or game of eye-spy.

Lisa Walker’s solo show GLEE at Galerie Biro, and Schmuck darling, Alexander Blank’s Totem on the Sideline at Galerie ARTikel3, were two more gallery exhibitions worth mentioning. I attended both openings; Blank’s happened to be quite a lot empieter than Walker’s due to the late hour of my arrival, yet thankfully so because I was able to see the artist and guests handling the pieces. Walker’s opening was literally shoulder-to-shoulder, and while she took a more conventional root display wise (walls with glass boxes, necklaces hanging on walls), there were a few pieces missing implying that guests were instead adorned. Walker herself could be found at the center of the small space with her elbow resting on an empty pedestal. I mention these two shows together due to their white box similarities yet willingness to pass the pieces around during the chaos that can be an opening event. This environment more accurately mimics that of a real life situation, as after all, jewelry is the everyday and is meant to be experienced.

As far as existing in a self referential island, these two shows had the potential to be bridge builders in their own way, mostly due to the strong and conceptual nature of Blank and Walker’s work. Blank offered a long and impressive press release (which was a text from a former exhibition at Gallery Rob Koudijis written by Keri Quick of AJF) discussing his series in a way that wasn’t confined to the world of jewelry or its history. Instead, Blank’s objects and Quick’s text speak to a universality that in turn rationalize the work’s own existence. More importantly, the verbal framework show a willingness to speak to new audiences while the anonymity of the gallery helps as well (like Spektrum, Walker’s gallery, Biro, is described as a jewelry gallery).

I would like to continue this post, yet due to a fear that it is already too long to hold your attention, I will post a part three, in time. Schmuck exhibitions still to mention will be group show, Suspended at Studio Gabi Green, Volker Atrops’ No Stone Unturned, Mia Maljojoki’s Crossing the Line, Galleria Maurer Zilioli’s showcase of artists Elisabeth Altenburg and Wolfgang Rahs, Returning to the Jewel is a Return from Exile (Robert Baines, Karl Fritsch, Gerd Rothman), the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp’s exhibition The Sound of Silver, group shows What’s in a Frame? and Pin Up. 

How do we explain contemporary jewelry to those that have never heard to it? For a Fulbright presentation back in February, I collected the following images in effort to do just that. I had the group try to distinguish what they were looking at by pairing up “artists” with “jewelers” who work in similar aesthetic modes. It’s a game of cross-reference, an effort to get new eyeballs on the work by putting  jewelry artists in the same conversation as visual artists. I’ll mention that the use of quotations below indicate the common connotations of the words within them and should emphasize the absurdity of naming or labeling in general.

WHICH PIECES IS “JEWELRY” AND WHICH PIECE IS “ART” ? 

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR LINK TO WEBSITE)

IS THIS THE WORK OF AN “ARTIST” OR “JEWELER” ???? 

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR LINK TO WEBSITE)

IS THIS OBJECT “JEWELY” OR  AN “ARTWORK” ? 

WHICH IS WHICH? 

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR LINK TO WEBSITE)

“JEWELRY” OBJECTS OR “ART” OBJECTS?? 

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR LINK TO WEBSITE)

DO THESE THREE PIECES COME FROM THE SAME PERSON? 

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR LINK TO WEBSITE)

WHAT ARE EACH OF THESE OBJECTS??  

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR LINK TO WEBSITE)

FOR MORE INFO ABOUT DEFINING CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY, PLEASE CICK ON THE COSMOLOGY LINK AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE ! FEEL FREE TO SHARE ALSO!

Schmuck is a bit incestuous. Perhaps that can be said about the contemporary jewelry world at large. I tend to describe this world as a small, uncharted island. Indeed it is a very beautiful island where the weather can’t be beat, everybody is known and liked (nobody would dare say a bad thing about any one), and very few really want to leave. Whether that is because no one wants to build a bridge off of the island is a debate of its own. This all might be fine, after all, island life is quite delightful. But if no one crosses the surrounding waters, can new visitors from far away places ever really be expected, or welcome? Or can they even find it? This gets interesting when considering all the collective hype about the so-called ‘promotion of contemporary jewelry.’ But to whom are we promoting exactly, other than to fellow islanders?

Is anybody listening other than those who are doing the saying?

As I propose this question, I don’t even quite know to whom I am writing this blog post. Of course the islanders know what I’m talking about, as that’s how they all knew to attend/participate in Schmuck in the first place. But I hold my interest in the ways that the islanders are trying to engage a wider public or appeal to a larger audience, to those that have perhaps never heard of the island at all. What do –let’s say, foreigners—need to know? What do they know already? This to me seems impossible to gauge yet it is clear that it ain’t much. And what does the island have to offer to foreigners belonging to the fine art world?  At the risk of exhausting an already mediocre analogy, the island of contemporary jewelry needs to think more about the benefits of tourism.

THE ROLE OF THE MUSEUM

I had the pleasure of running into Dr. Corinna Rösner, art historian and chief curator of the Die Neue Sammlung (International Design Museum) at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich while browsing the main Schmuck exhibition at the Handwerkmesse. She believes in the importance of the museum’s collection, a distinct entity from collections such as Pforzheim and specialized contemporary jewelry galleries. She has described work in the field as possessing “artistic will” deserving of a stronger relationship to fine art, and architecture. In the Jewellery Talks film (see in previous post —> here), Dr. Rösner expresses a need of looking to the future in the field despite the reputation the museum has to look back on history. How does the Pinakothek acknowledge this balance in a field relatively undervalued in the history of fine art (as opposed to applied arts)?

Here is the museum’s statement of concept:

With four major museums presenting art, works on paper, architecture and design under one roof, the pinakothek der moderne is one of the world’s greatest collections of 20th and 21st century art. The open and spacious building invites visitors to explore, to discover connections and gain new und surprising insights.

Perfect. No outward categorical discrepancies here.  Jewelry as a category is listed under their permanent exhibitions (which means it can be seen at all times), as the Danner Rotunda gallery space is home to works by more than one-hundred international jewelry artists, with Hermann Jünger, Otto Künzli as past curators (Karl Fritsch is the current). Although the Pinakothek has showcased solo shows for contemporary jewelry artists like Giampoalo Babetto, Peter Skubic, and Robert Smit (future) alongside the likes of Donald Judd, Barbara Kruger and Olaf Nicolai just to name a few, the Danner Rotunda collection acts more as a historical summary rather than an image of the future. Imagine putting 100-200 paintings from a fifty-year period into one room. It’s true that jewelry’s history of conceptuality is not lengthy which means the community is much smaller (as are the pieces themselves), but still we have no categorical or artistic distinction between the individual works beyond that of the j-word. Is this fair? Although it pains me to express negativity to this undeniably wonderful collection in a real art museum, we do need to take it a step further. It’s not enough just to have the jewelry in a museum, even if the pieces do receive new sets of eyes because of it; the work needs to be treated equally with the same sense of criticality, selection, explanation and artistic representation. I have already expressed my feelings toward the Ädellab – The State of Things exhibition, also at the Pinakothek; you can read more —-> here.

Dr. Rösner and I only spoke briefly about the Pinakothek’s four independent museums, hers being the Die Neue Sammlung which represents design, jewelry and applied arts. Her curatorial position remains distinct from the fine art department, architecture department and graphic arts department, each with their very own directors.  She spoke of the independence as a crucial element to the cooperation of each department, each with their own exhibition, collection and curating policies. I asked her if she valued then a distinction between the good work within the contemporary jewelry world being separate of what is considered to be contemporary art. “Yeah because it is not the same, although there are relations of course. So the big chance is to have it under one roof, but to have each piece from the museum to have its own power. Each director is fighting for his part.”

I then asked about potential overlap between departments, if there would ever be an exhibition that merged contemporary painting with contemporary jewelry for example, but Rösner could only speak to hope. She indicated a conservative nature of the fine arts department in regard to such collaboration, yet did say that a curator from the fine art department of the Neues Museum in Nuremberg (there are two departments, one for contemporary art and the other for modern design) is much more open as she is from a younger generation. Here’s a statement from the Neues:

Design and art are given an equal weighting and enter into a dialog – the idea of consistently adhering to such a policy represents a worldwide first and sets standards for the future.

Rösner told me that the museum has already hosted artists like Karl Fritsch, Lisa Walker and Annamaria Zanella. But more importantly, she mentioned that the contemporary art curator at the Neues, who I believe is Melitta Kliege, actually purchased a ring by Karl Fritsch for her own collection. This minimal transaction is a monumental sign that the overlap is in sight, at least here in Germany. “It’s like an invasion, working underground… it’s a process. One has to be patient and build the next step and then build the next step,” something Rösner says that can grow with the kind of energy felt at Schmuck.

Rösner reminded me that other big time museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York do, indeed, have contemporary jewelry collections, and the Met’s curator, Jane Adlin (associate curator for design and architecture in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art), did in fact make the trip to Munich (Rösner had actually shown her around that very day). The Met’s website boasts a searchable database for pieces in the collection, however currently it is an underdeveloped educational tool if one doesn’t know what one is looking for. The contemporary work is sadly lumped with the historical and precious pieces, even though there is a clear knowledge of separation from past to contemporary (for example, read this bit from AJF —-> here). When comparing the Met to the Pinakothek, surely Munich takes the cake for better framing and acknowledgement of the field’s innovative potential, speaking more to a conceptual history than merely that of jewelry’s reputation as supplemental or decorative. Let’s also not forget that Dr. Rösner had to remind me the Met even had the collection, as they usually only devote one or two pieces to floor space (correct me if I’m wrong). In the Met’s defense, there are about 16 other departments to fight with for the floor space unlike the Pinakothek’s four, not to mention that most of the Met’s collection was donated just a few years ago. Step by step.

Bettina Speckner showcased at Schmuck

Jamie Bennett, Bettina Speckner, Tracy Steepy

Peter Skubic at the beer hall, slinging some of his pieces over pretzels (out of a tupperware !)

getting friendly, Wolfgang Rahs in the background

everyone was glad to see the Scmuck Bar

COMING NEXT IN PART 2: THE ROLE OF THE GALLERY

Do I? A friend recently told me that my first Schmuck response sounded a bit… irritated. My friend is not wrong. Perhaps this is another reason these responses are coming along so slowly. I remember that during my last day at Schmuck I was walking around with a new friend, Sam Hamilton from Alchimia, ranting about my frustrations with display and editing, etc; I may have also told her that even after all I had seen, I was bored. She asked me, “well then, what doesn’t bore you?”  Good question, Sam, good question. And I do actually have an answer, a few really, but I am quite sure it will come with a regular dose of criticality, like always.

When Sam asked me this question, we were at the Pinakotek der Moderne viewing Ädellab – The State of Things, an exhibition of Stockholm’s Konstfack graduates. This is what it looked like.

Seemingly not so boring. Fair enough. It was likeable, it was. The neon in the back drew one in, the hanging mechanisms were not as conventional as usual and therefore mildly clever (I do LOVE rope. And how dynamic RED can be! Zig-zagging lines of red rope! I know I sound sarcastic but I really was “into it” when I first walked up the stairs), but sadly, aside from the red rope I felt the exhibition was mostly likeable largely due to the fact that the show was in a museum, a museum which, in fact, does have a contemporary jewelry collection (gasp!), and it was in an area that one basically had to walk through to navigate the wing. But although likeable, I did eventually get bored. After all, the pieces were still just hung on the wall, like always. Perhaps bored isn’t the best word; frustration soon ensued  because of the following:

A) There was just too much– a problem such the opposite of unique that I don’t know what to do because no one else seems to agree that it is indeed, a problem. I do hope I’m wrong about that. SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME! But is this just the name of the jewelry game? It is beyond a reoccurrence.

B) A lot of the work was great (!!!), you might just not ever know, unless of course you are 7 feet tall or have incredible zoom-like vision. The image below marks a point of sever vexation.

These pieces are those of Hanna Hedman, who in my opinion, is doing everything right. I’ve known about her work for a few years and this was the first time I was ever able to see any of it in person. Among the other work in the exhibition, these pieces are intricately detailed and delicate yet with a masterful presence. Hedman is beyond skilled and uses a combination of my favorite things in her work, that is traditional techniques and materials that transcend their conventional limits by making the work ever so contemporary and compelling as both objects and jewels. Something delicious for everyone. The piece in the photo on the left I surely recognized, which sadly took me a few minutes to realize because it was hung about 5 feet above the top of my head, thus the bad photo.  WHY. Please visit her website linked above (click on her name) to see what I mean if you’re unfamiliar. Actually, I’ll post a picture from her website below just to wet your whistle.

Although there was a key (each piece was numbered so that you could find the corresponding artist on a provided piece of paper), there was no individual write-up of statements for each separate work or intent. Just more necklaces that have nothing to do with one another against a white wall, categorized by the lone fact that all of the participants went to the same school. Certainly I could have taken the artist key and done some further investigation via the internet once I got home to find out more about each piece… which I am still doing. If I honestly wanted to do the work justice, I’d really need to stay in the space for a whole day, or more. Really. And ask to touch the pieces. Or put them on. Would I be allowed?  Even as I looked around, I felt guilty for leaving after twenty minutes, which was all the time I had considering what else was out there. Schmuck really forces you to spread yourself thin! But am I simply just irritated for the sake of being irritated? All I want is to know more and be able to appreciate the work on a higher level!

In a small attempt to help fulfill this desire, click —> here to read about the exhibition and see some “in context” images of a small number of included pieces. I suggest you do. Here is a quote from Danish jewelry artist and Department head of Jewelry at Konstfack (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) Karen Pontoppidan. “…The work was created because an artist, a human being with experiences, feelings, dreams and failures, wanted the pieces to be.”

I’ll let you sit with that for now as It may or may not be fuel for its very own blog post (will it be angry!?). Here’s one of the images from the above link posted below. The photo clearly magnifies the significance and thought behind the work. I honestly appreciated the pieces a hell of a lot more after seeing them.

Katrin Spranger, “Best Before”, 2011. Crude oil and its products, gold, silver

But why weren’t they included in the exhibition? This was a missed opportunity. If you recall, Anna Fornari was even able to include itty-bitty corresponding images with her display case-ridden pieces in the show Pensieri Preziosi earlier this year in Padova.

If you visit Spranger’s personal website you’ll find a refreshing artist statement and more pieces from her series, Best Before. 

Below are more pictures of the exhibition. Check back for the names of artists.

too high up!

I suppose I didn’t quite answer Sam’s question in this post, perhaps I will in the next. To clarify, and as you can see, a lot of the included work was not actually boring. Eventually I will post an example of an exhibition’s display conventions that served the pieces more appropriately. It can exist, I promise. At least one can only hope.

I also suppose I could leave you with some questions that I did not address but maybe should have. IS the work included in the show art because it is an art museum? Or is it still just jewelry that happens to be showcased in an art museum? Do they make such a strong distinction in Germany vs. other places? Does it matter? What say the reader?