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Dear Readers,

I’m reposting my review of Alchimia’s graduation show (it was first published on the Alchimia school blog) so that I can include more photos to better illustrate some points and to show a bit of the opening from last June. PLEASE ENJOY.

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WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU WANT TO WEAR A LEMON? 

A review of PURUS, graduation exhibition of Alchimia Jewelry School, Florence, Italy

Multiple yellow citruses suspended in the foreground of woolly red and fleshy pink masses only scarcely hint to the world in which these puzzling objects belong. The hanging work seen through the large window of Alchimia acts as a mysterious aperitivo to the average passerby surely stumped by the question “what is this I’m looking at?”

To those of us familiar with the world of contemporary jewelry, hearing questions like this is common coming from others unaware of this unique and expressive form of art. But interestingly, even to the most acquainted sets of eyeballs, most of the Alchimia students’ pieces begged for similar inquiry. Due to the diverse content and spatial limitations inherent to graduation exhibitions, finding an appropriate method for review is a bit tricky. Unlike a normal group show, where collected work circles around a central theme, Alchimia’s PURUS, a title that mirrors the mutual curiousness of the content, showcases small collections of eleven very different emerging artists.

Upon entering, the gaze is focused straight ahead. Angular white tables hang from above, covered with what from a distance looks like delicious confections of white, light blues and soft pinks. Before the first table is reached, attention is indirectly diverted to the coat racks to the left. A double take is needed before realizing that the exhibition’s only true installation is what hangs on the wall.

The series of Izabella Petrut (Romania) is a self-proclaimed love story retold by dismembered roller blades and skating paraphernalia–turned jewelry objects. Pinned to and draped over similar colored clothing and casually thrown about denim, the work in hues of slate, cold blues and off-whites is tangled in disguise, as Petrut’s series seems at first to be hardly sentimental. Choosing titles for her shoe lace-wrapped wheel brooches like “sunrise on the beach…” and “the first morning…” the question that remains is whether the work really does retell the love story that the pieces represent, or if we can accept and maybe even enjoy the visual disconnect between object and intention.  The especially flesh-toned wheel brooch (installed pinned to a shirt draped over a stool) starts to bridge this gap by insinuating a bodily connection. Ultimately, the relative ambition of the installation can be appreciated in comparison to other setups. Petrut’s ability to mirror the subtle yet familiar essence of the physical objects can be thanked for its success. More importantly, Petrut’s series, A Love Story, stays true to the jewelry’s position as the emotional and the everyday, while effectively avoiding aesthetic (but perhaps not verbal) redundancy and trite clichés.

With regard to exhibition install overall, the show starts on a short-lived high note as few other artists were allotted such a generous space for contextual display. Spatial constraints of the room could be partially to blame, certainly. But could it also be due to a lack of consideration and/or demand for an apt theoretical framework to the work? For some artists, perhaps yes. For Patrick Davison (Great Britain) however, his series Talking, isn’t in need of such support. Davison’s pieces stand autonomously on the first of the white tables, paired appropriately with Guilia Savino (Italy) and Weronika Marek (Poland). The series title is a delicate boost to their aesthetic independence –a product of a transcendence of materials (plaster or latex with silver and string) and a continuity of idea that elicits a strong lasting impression. Hot and delicate breath carried through a succession of string lifelines is evidence of a symbiotic relationship where talking is in fact making for Davison.

Davison’s necklaces ask to be picked up for a test of weightiness and to be seen elongated from all sides, not unlike the work of his tablemate, Guilia Savino in her series, Shhh!. It is apparent that both Davison and Savino would have greatly benefited from some room to breathe, as would have Marek. Collectively their subtle natures begin to infiltrate one another, diminishing the three aesthetics and conceptual underpinnings that uniquely demand individual isolation.

A division does endure between these three artists despite the close quarters, characterized by diverse explorations with material. This can be said for most of the Alchimia graduates, yet certain artists more soundly developed profound bodies of work that surpass a reliance on material as concept. How does materiality relate to the overall strength of a piece? Marek’s series, Into Emptiness, is worth mentioning here. The name, the objects—brooches comprised of cold cylinders in softly melting shades of icy blues and whites—and the sentiment all add up; knowing what they are made of is more of an added curiosity than it is crucial.

Across the room on an identical white table, Sam Hamilton’s series, Praise, (paired with the work of Ji Yang Lee, Korea), contributes to the dialogue addressing material strength and meaning. Being one of the more ambitious material explorations presented, it can perhaps be said that she is only getting started. At first it seems Hamilton’s internal and bubbly growth-like resins struggle to rationalize why they need to belong to the world of jewelry at all—yet this thought is quickly confronted after seeing the pieces contextualized. Small photographs of classical statues ornamented with Hamilton’s necklaces and a series of flipbooks showing continuous stages of process accompany the collection. Also thinking about communicative framework like Petrut, Hamilton (Ireland) is the only artist who thought to pair photos with the physical. They are important vestiges like her books, but should have been blown-up and presented as equally valued works. The images are beyond supplemental and positively mimic the praiseful and candidly personal satisfaction that making (and wearing) brings to the maker.

So then what does it really mean to put on an artwork, to adorn oneself with a summary of feelings, past events, ideas? Where can a personal connection be found, between maker and object, or object and future wearer? Some Alchimia graduates were capable of asking and simultaneously answering questions like these; Hamilton’s Praise serves as a humble example. Valentina Caprini (Italy) pushes it further by presenting a fresh take on the fundamental roles of jewelry vs. a devotion to them, successfully achieving equilibrium in her series, Therapy. The distinctive collection, displayed suspended from the ceiling (one of two collections first mentioned seen through the window), is so aptly titled that one can walk away with the word slipping off their tongue without having known it prior. Caprini’s work speaks on multiple levels including reinvention of tradition, making/wearing as healing, self-growth and remembrance, and femininity. The four woven necklaces into which pills have been sewn (and the trio of fleshy brooches) independently possess a strong emotive presence owed to the delicate and deliberate touch of the artist. In addition to a unique tactile quality, Caprini has involved an accessible depth to her work worthy of further contemplation.

Nearby, and in quite a stark contrast, are the dangling lemons by Catalina Gibert Nadal (Spain). Visual impact initially denies their alliance to the jewelry realm, as they seem to function as a sly ploy to get a wider audience through the front door. It works, strangely, and even stranger is why these mysterious lemons (some are brooches, others are long necklaces that would hang past the waist) are objects that someone would want to wear to carry the weight of. This moment of questioning is arguably part of the work itself, which becomes a sophisticated element provided that it’s intentional. In this way, Gibert’s Llimona series is perplexing; a delightful intrigue into the artist’s background and from where came her firm commitment to the citrus.

Located on the second of white tables near the entrance, the culturally referential collection, Sontob, the Korean word for Fingernail, similarly raises questions about the influence of place and why one decides to be adorned with specific things. Dinah Lee’s series (USA) can also be compared to Caprini’s insofar that Lee’s brooches are better synched to the concepts behind jewelry versus the aesthetics that identify it. If one can be convinced that the abstracted imagery denotes more than an empty semblance of a loyalty to heritage, the colorfully rhythmic brooches act as new traditional symbolism reflecting jewelry’s responsibility as a social and cultural signifier.

An initial critique of Lee’s collection would be to say that the presented work feels a bit redundant, or could have been pushed further. Before drawing this conclusion however, it is well worth looking through her published book that each graduate was required to provide as an accompaniment to his or her collection. The books are worth mentioning; some are able to enhance the shown work, as in the case of Andrea Coderch Valor (Spain). Hers is able to enlighten the viewer as to the true intention of her 150 pillowy-sewn flower brooches, each made one day at a time over the course of six months for one specific person. Coderch’s story is half the work itself; her book provides depth and closure to the physical objects installed for exhibition in a grid on its own wall opposite the book display.

More simply, the beautifully shot photographs found in Marek’s book reveal the quieter, poetic details of her pieces that can easily be overlooked in person.

Other books begin to call into question the selection decisions of curator, Christoph Zellweger, by exposing what he decided to include in the show and what he has decided to leave out. For example, some of Davison’s stronger and more varied pieces are excluded, similar to Lee, and the same goes for Anna Helena Van de Pohl de Deus (USA), Lee’s display tablemate. Helena’s exhibited work becomes more so affected after looking through her book. Not only does the book show more interesting works, but it also reveals a disconnect between concept and final product. By including a lot of quotes about talking, silence and language, Helena’s book proposes that the objects for her series, com∙mu∙ni∙ca∙tion, are supposed to stand in for her own communicative inabilities. If they’re meant to speak for her, what do they actually say? Her painterly neckpieces of pinks and natural wood are compositionally pleasing and probably fun to wear. Are these merely visual qualities lessened by the mismatch of object to verbal framework, thus failing to really say anything at all?

When an object strikes the right balance of message and mystery it develops a captivating nature.  In terms of contemporary jewelry, one hopes this balance manifests into a desire to touch and to wear, hence creating a moment of exciting personal connection that characterizes the object’s success. The goal of this review is largely to speak about where in the exhibition this balance can be found so as to respect the dedicated investigations and personal growth (guided by artist and teacher Ruudt Peters) of each Alchimia student mentioned.

It can now also be said that the show’s abstract title, PURUS, Latin for “pure and free from”, ends up being quite a good match. Most of the collections are significantly personal; they are extensions of the individual that qualify a sense of pureness true to the maker, a quality not always found in the world of contemporary jewelry at large. By remaining free from one another and free from material limitations, the name too embodies the search for balance that the majority of graduates were ultimately able to discern.

Alchimia’s PURUS will travel to Joya Contemporary Jewelry week in Barcelona on October 11-13, followed by SIERAAD Art Fair in Amsterdam, November 1-4, 2012. Additionally, the work of Izabella Petrut, Weronika Marek and Dinah Lee will be showcased at Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen, NL for the 2012 International Graduate Show.

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

Saturday the 9th of June marked the inauguration of 4 Padovani e un Torinese, presented by Maurer Zilioli Contemporary Arts. A humble space in the center of the small and beautiful northern Italian town of Brescia, the gallery is a rare dose of contemporary culture, currently housing what I’ll call today’s traditional in Italian contemporary jewelry and sculpture.

The Padovan representatives were Giampaolo Babetto, Graziano Visintin, Renzo Pasquale and Annamaria Zanella, Bruno Martinazzi from Torino; the five artisti-orafi are legends in the field for those that don’t know. Some of the artists from Padova showcased new works with recognizable or iconic pieces also mixed throughout the gallery. Framed drawings from the research stages of their processes were also hung, acting as their own strong and singular works while simultaneously welcoming the viewer into each artistic process. For me this addition was quite the bonus and pulled the show together by adding substance to the singularity of each sculptural piece. Perhaps it could be even more substantial to outsider perspectives; the drawings act as indicators to thought, research and thorough investigation that suggest the practice of each maker to be similar (if not the same) to methodic visual artists outside of the jewelry sphere.

Pieces by Renzo Pasquale

Pieces of jewelry and drawings were not the only works presented. Works by Zanella and Pasquale took shape in much larger forms, a departure from the formal scale limitations of jewelry objects. Pasquale’s clear acrylic sculptures can be seen as a natural shift, having been known to integrate the material into his previous works in jewelry. Zanella implements a material shift as well as a scale shift in her larger work on display. This literal transition (past brooches take on the exact same formal qualities, Cuore Bionico, 1995) begs the question of whether there is a true difference between what is known as sculpture and certain works in contemporary jewelry like what is seen in this exhibition. The Italian goldsmith/artists are particularly known for their sculptural ties through their tendencies and devotion to geometric abstraction and minimal languages. And although this particular exhibition is at first glance heavily tied to the jewelry world, it doesn’t mean that it’s an entirely complete assessment. Maurer Zilioli after all, is a contemporary art gallery (and also a cultural organization), a bridge builder of sorts, promoting the work in the jewelry field in hopes to give it a higher consideration in the art world. Has it worked?

Sculptures by Pasquale

Sculpture by Zanella

Drawings by Babetto and sculpture by Zanella

While in Brescia I was warmly greeted by Ellen Maurer and Claudio Zilioli and was able to chat with them about the liminal role their gallery plays between the jewelry and fine art world. Although there are no hierarchical distinctions between form and medium in their minds, the majority of Zilioli’s exhibitions are not necessarily related to contemporary works in jewelry. In fact, few of their past exhibitions have actually combined jewelry to visual arts directly, noting Piccole Sculture (with Peter Skubic, Franz Hitzler, Valeriano Trubbiani, Therese Hilbert, Bruny Sartori, and Bruno Martinazzi), and Gente di Mare (David Bielander and Michelle Taylor) as two examples within the last year. A more impressive example of integration can be seen in one of their Schmuck exhibitions in Munich last March with artists Elisabeth Altenburg (Füll RAUM) and Wolfgang Rahs (Projektor Oben Often). When they do have shows exclusively devoted to jewelry, Maurer stated that there is wind of disinclination blowing from certain contemporary art audiences. In their minds, jewelry is separate and is not art, maybe even less than or on rare occasions equal to it.

Drawings by Babetto

Pasquale

Graziano Visintin

Babetto

Visintin

Babetto

Babetto – oldies but goodies

Babetto

Bruno Martinazzi

Martinazzi

Martinazzi

Visintin

Babetto

It’s easy to see that all the works (with the exception of the bigger sculpture pieces) were under glass. Although still well within the realm of “our kind of jewelry” (or contemporary art jewelry… you pick the name), the work coming from the Padovani (and from Martinazzi) is still largely and willingly bound to a material tradition so precious that the pieces really can’t be anywhere other then under the safey of a vitrine. Most the time the pieces are, indeed, made of gold.  Beyond this material fundamental there also lies the considerations for which the pieces are successful singular works, which at the end of the day is slightly more independent of a necessity for the piece to be seen on the body than other categories of contemporary jewelry. In this case, with this type of sculptural work, is the body factor just an encouraged bonus?

To better illustrate what I mean, here is a version of the Jewelry as Art Venn Diagram posted under the COSMOLOGY section at the very top of the page where I have isolated the Italian artists in order to see how they approach their work. Almost all of the artists are categorized in the Jewelry as Sculptural Object sphere (click on cosmology to see the full context).

The glass vitrine continues to be utilized as one of the only practical modes for display when focusing especially on this type of contemporary jewelry. The eye can still move around the object (although it’s a bit limited) and if in a gallery, there is indeed a gallerist available to show you the piece more intimately so that the light may move through it and the tactile physical experience appreciated. When asked, Ellen said ever so fittingly that the most important action to take in the promotion of contemporary jewelry was to simply wear the work. “I really insist on this fact. We need collectors. We need them to wear it. You have… well, you have one thing (addressing me). You don’t have anything (addressing Graziano Visintin). We need people to wear jewelry, because most people don’t wear jewelry. This is one of the most important media for propaganda. Absolutely.”

At the opening Ellen could be seen wearing a very large and very gold necklace by Bruno Martinazzi. At Maurer Zilioli, jewelry ≥ visual art.

Ellen Mauer Zilioli (in blue), Annamaria Zanella (to her right) and Renzo Pasquale

download the press release <——

This evening was the inauguration of Purus, Alchimia Contemporary Jewelry School’s graduate exhibition. I’m off to Amsterdam tomorrow, but wanted to give you a peek of the opening and to announce the three exclusive picks of Marie-José an den Hout of Galerie Marzee to be included in an upcoming international graduate show.

 

Weronika Marek

Dinah Lee

and Izabella Petrut

MORE TO COME

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. 

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

The evening of April 20th marked the opening of Rosalba Balsamo‘s exhibition, Less is More, at Contemporary Jewelry Gallery, Antonella Villanova. It also happened to be the opening of 25th, presented by Galleria Alessandro Bagnai,  in celebration of twenty five years of operation as a contemprary art gallery. Advertised as individual openings and as separate galleries by name, both events took place at the very same space at the very same time.

This might not seem so strange once knowing more about Villanova and Bagnai’s two preexisting sister galleries (which are both located about ten minutes away). They are situated on parallel streets; two separate store fronts, two different names although the space is physically yet subtly connected inside.

Villanova and Bagnai’s new joint gallery at Piazza Goldoni combine represented artists of both galleries under one, more obvious and much larger roof; the new space boasts a floor plan twice the space of both charmingly sized individual galleries combined, and same goes for ceiling height. Although a definite upgrade, the two smaller galleries continue to keep their doors open.

The new gallery is extremely beautiful. I heard rumor of the merge a few months ago but felt it might end up being a too-good-to-be true kind of deal. How often is it that contemporary jewelry gets to share a stage equally with work considered to be contemporary art? Not so often. The galleries in which one can see contemporary jewelry artworks are always only for such work, and the few with a broader range of fields teeter on the edge of ‘design’, ‘functional objects’… never fine art. Although it is true that big museums hold contemporary jewelry collections, it is almost always regarded as a highly separate field, never allowed to mingle with other more elevated artworks. And ever more so (take the Met for example) the conceptual/research based art jewelry is lumped into the same categorization as the ancient and/or historical jewels of civilizations and royalties  past.  Recognizing this fact is perhaps why the opening of the hybrid Villanova/Bagnai is fairly groundbreaking, it truly is. Especially for Italy.

So how did they do? As usual, there are a few issues worth noting. Both shows are separately advertised. The press for Balsamo’s show makes no mention of Bagnai’s opening, and vise versa. Is it a clever ploy to get the real art critics and fine art audience to finally see and think about the jewelry in the same terms? Do Villanova and Bagnai acknowledge the work as being equally captivating, able to compete on the same level? One can only hope. But is the slyness necessary? Perhaps it is.

While at Schmuck, I had the great pleasure of meeting artist, Andrea Wagner. We spoke in length about the so-called problems specific to the contemporary jewelry field and about ways of reframing the work to get it higher consideration in the art world. She spoke of introduction and order, what to say first to keep the attention of those that have never considered whether jewelry can be art and the reverse. To paraphrase, she told me that once the J-word is spoken, the blinds just sort of go down and the interest tends to disappear. No longer is she talking about art, as the problem with jewelry is apparent in its own  name, especially to those that just don’t know this kind of work exists. By silently aligning herself to Bagnai, perhaps Villanova is trying to avoid the blinds going down before the work is given a fair chance to compete.

Is this game of association more desperate than it is clever? I don’t think so. And perhaps I’m over thinking it. Villanova and Bagnai are known names and certainly they wanted the weight and the following to be carried through to the new space. And in my opinion, the real test lies in the way the work, both the jewelry work and the artworks in Bagnai’s show were presented in relation to each other.

Upon walking in, the first thing one is confronted with is Balsamo’s new work. Score for team jewelry. But not so fast, as the pieces were bound to plexi display cases attached to the wall. I will say that the cases were quite nice compared to the infinite amount of god-awful cases out there, but they were still cases. On the upside, the front of each plexi box was open, making the work actually accessible. This was a pleasant surprise as it enabled one to imagine actually touching, holding, feeling the piece, highlighting a potential interaction, and one could have that interaction provided they were brave enough to make it happen. Not bad. I will mention that this series of Balsamo fell a little flat for me (also the work was literally so, so flat) and lack-luster. The work was crowded and redundant, and the generality of the pieces in combination with their housing made it feel more like a misplaced gallery shop than work that belonged in a gallery. This was probably the most upsetting aspect because the work was actually IN an art gallery. But it wouldn’t be fair to call it fine and good just because of that reason alone. I do think Balsamo makes good work, this just didn’t happen to be it. Perhaps if some information was provided I could have been convinced of a little more. Here lies another issue but we shall save that for another time.

The other work throughout the gallery gets a bit more interesting, yet a lot of it has to do with the excitement of the new space. The artists of 25th are as follows and were selected based on how their work has characterized the activity of the gallery over the last two-plus decades: Roberto Barni, Massimo Barzagli, Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, Gianni Dessì, Rolando Deval, Rainer Fetting, Jannis Kounellis, Paolo Leonardo, Nunzio, Mimmo Paladino, Pizzi Cannella, David Salle, Maurizio Savini, Mario Schifano, Marco Tirelli, Betty Woodman, and George Woodman.

Below is a better attempt to merge some jewelry more fluidly with the rest of the works in the show, they are not Balsamo’s (I apologize but I don’t know who the artist is- will remedy the situation in time).

Works of Lucia Massei were also present in the gallery, but took space in a closed off back section near another, smaller entrance. Massei had a solo show at the former Villanova space earlier in the year. In both instances pieces were displayed in the same plexi-cases as Balsamo’s work, indicating they had less than nothing to do with the work inside. Why does this continue to be the norm? Here are some images below:

The question remains: is researched based jewelry art, just because it is in an art gallery?  I struggle with this regularly, or struggle with figuring out if it matters. I’ve been whining and whining about leveling the playing field, and finally here, Villanova/Bagnai are attempting to build some kind of bridge, but something is missing. It’s like having a delicious meal but leaving the restaurant hungry. I believe it’s a combination of things, mostly the lack of cohesion between the works in 25th and Balsamo’s Less is More. This is quite clear, and the problem could have been solved with a blend of the two shows instead of them merely sharing the same roof (even though it’s great that they share the same roof! Example: I am going to ‘tag’ some of the referenced artists. That means both Jannis Kounellis and Lucia Massei will appear next to one another on the list, because they were, more or less, in the same show… but were they?). Here we have the same problem that exists within museum collections, separate but seemingly  quasi-equal. In this case the problem would have been solved with a better choice of artist from Villanova to match up aesthetically to Bagnai’s retrospective artists, who were much more clearly chosen selectively. It isn’t often that contemporary jewelry shows are critiqued for curatorial choices; the field is so small that it seems to be thought of as unnecessary, a sad reality in an anything goes world.

Why doesn’t the same critical eye get passed through works in jewelry? Why is there a reluctance to truly combine mediums under the same roof, the same name? Why are display conventions in jewelry not being challenged with more apt and expressive modes that match the potential integrity of the work? We have a mighty long way to go, indeed. But despite the shortcomings of their efforts, Villanova and Bagnai are on the right track to building that much needed bridge.

The new location of Villanova and Bagnai is Palazzo Ricasoli in Piazza Goldon, 2, Florence, Italy. Galleria Antonella Villanova is located on Via della Spada, 36R, which is currently showcasing the other half of Rosalba Balsamo’s ‘Less is More’ series. Galleria Alessandro Bagnai is located on Via del Sole, 15r and is currently exhibiting work by Günther Uecker.

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?

The Italians seem to be hittin’ it in the big old world right about now. Here are some happenings (click on the pictures and/or names for more info):

Maria Rosa Franzin and Graziano Visintin at Orfèo, Luxembourg, march 23 – April 29

•Renzo Pasquale and Annamaria Zanella at Galerie Louise Smit, Amsterdam, April 1 – May 4

Fabrizio Tridenti exhibited at Louise Smit earlier in the year as well, Jan 8 – Feb 18

Rosalba Balsamo at Antonella Villanova, Florence, April 20- May 20

•Stefano Marchetti will be doing a workshop at Le Arti Orafe in Florence, Italy. Hacking Ideas, A Way of Thinking in Jewellery Design, July 23- July 26

There was also a big Italian presence at Schmuck; the young and fabulous Margherita de Martino Norante exhibited at the messe in Munich along side two of the Italian greats, Graziano Visintin, and Francesco Pavan! Margherita also exhibited at the show Suspended during Schmuck 2012 at Studio Gabi Green.

Marchetti, Visintin, Pavan and Zanella were also represented in Die Renaissance des Emaillierens at Galerie Handwerk, also during Schmuck week.

Is there such a thing as too much jewelry? IS THERE? Schmuck 2012 may have just been that. I say this in a conflicting manner, as it is amazing to finally have the ability to see so much work in one place and yet have that be the problem simultaneously. Unfortunately, and like many others who flocked to Munich for this event, I could absolutely not attend every single collateral gallery show. I arrived the morning of the 15th and left the evening of the 18th.  I also needed some naps. And sometimes I got lost. And then there were the sausages. Anyway, please accept my most sincere apologizes for missing what else was out there. And I’m sure I missed some golden nuggets (FROWN FACE).

I have delayed this first response for a few reasons, the main one being my uncertainty of knowing how to properly digest it all- how to spit it back out in a critical but informative way, speaking of each conversation I had meanwhile, and reporting on the good, the bad, and the boring. Let’s not forget that attending Schmuck was research, and how to categorize or at least sort it all is a daunting task. This bit and those to follow will be a review of sorts, perhaps even a critique in all actuality, and they will all point to previously mentioned ideas spoken about on the blog in effort to synthesize concepts of my existing research.

I will start by explaining one of the main interests in attending Schmuck in the first place, which primarily had to do with looking at display conventions and forms of exhibition. Who were the innovators and who were the traditionalists? The first show I was able to see was MURMURation, a group show including artists Silke Fleischer, Adam Grinovich, Dana HakimHannah Joris, Jorge Manilla, Peter Vermandere, Willy Van de velde, and Stephen Gallagher. This show was indicated as Upstairs on the Schmuck guide, differentiating itself from Downstairs, where the work of Ulo Florack and Caroline von Steinau-Steinrück was also displayed. These side-by-side exhibitions had nothing to do with one another, almost perfectly summarizing what I would distinguish as what to do more of and what not to do ever again. Let me put it this way; after a half glance I walked straight through downstairs and went right upstairs. And here’s why:

An instant turn off, really. And that’s not to say that perhaps the work within these god-awful display cases wasn’t… interesting. Surely there was a gem or two. Florack is actually quite a successful German artist who has exhibited everywhere. His I-don’t-really-give-a-shit statement is even short, sweet and good:

Anticipating the signs of the time is not the intention doing my jewellery. Being too early or too late is quite the same to me – therefore I will continue to do it my way. 
If my jewellery lights a fire in someone, I would be delighted to be the treasurer.

But to my disappointment, the pieces were all too crowded and unapproachable like other jewelry exhibitions far too often. And WHY? Now I will type in bold, as I guess we could call this my first main point: Editing is important. If you want people to actually see the work, to look at each piece and appreciate each one for all it might be worth, then give it some god damn room to breath. Being selective indicates a critical eye.

“But jewelry is small!” you might say. It doesn’t matter. Or I suppose I should say it shouldn’t matter. There shouldn’t be an “everything goes” type of system just because it all fits inside the room.

Thankfully it was better upstairs.

I am going to attempt a crappy analogy. Let’s pretend that contemporary jewelry is a bit like mainstream rap. Ok. Jay-Z is a really popular hip-hop artist, correct? But if you listen to a lot of his tracks, he sort of just gives it all away right from the beginning. There’s no build up, no surprises, nothing to look forward to. You basically hear the same whatever for 3 minutes… and it’s boring, in my opinion (it’s either boring or it’s a redone version of a song that was never even good originally [Forever Young/ Young Forever], which is obviously just what everybody needs). One could argue that Downstairs was more like a mediocre Jay-Z song. And although MURMURation really just hung some white fabric from the ceiling, somehow the space became subtly exciting.  At first look pieces could only slightly reveal themselves thanks to light and the translucence of the fabric, asking the viewer to become curious and investigate. There became a delicate exchange between finding and viewing a particular piece that mirrored that same sensitive interaction when handling a piece of jewelry carefully. It was an intimate situation. Most pieces were also suspended from the ceiling allowing gravity to cause a delicate natural movement. It was almost as though each piece wanted to show itself to you. And no, the intimacy I’m stressing doesn’t have anything to do with rap. My point is that one thing should lead you to another, to get you excited to see, or hear, more. Jay-Z don’t do that, and neither did the set up of the show downstairs.

Here is the ever apt statement for MURMURation:

Far away a shape appears, a wave of individuals, volatile reverberations, captivating, emerging and constantly changing, filling your sight. 
Come closer to hear the submerged whisper, blown by breathing voices, indistinctive, continuous public confessions, filling your mind. 
A gathering, a group, a view, composed paradoxes, a form, unpredicted, dispatched, attracted to be repulsed and united. 
A base of Belgian independent artists spread their wings, their mumbling now resonating globally, to form this murmuration. 

So the exhibition set up and the statement match up nicely. Ok, but was the work good? Why yes, indeed it was. And when thinking again about downstairs, it was almost like old meets new. Or Dirt Off Your Shoulder (think about it, the best part of the track is given up immediately! It’s a good song but nothing else happens…) meets Busta Rhymes’ Can You Keep Up. Or something. I said this was a crappy analogy.

Showstoppers included the meticulous work of artist Silke Fleischer, and Schmuck darlings Adam Grinovich and Jorge Manilla. Each artist had a brief corresponding statement, which like the exhibition itself, led me to want more. What brought all these artists to share a room? The show boasted an appropriate and manageable amount of work. I felt as though I could look at everything and digest it fairly equally, not to be overwhelmed. Some pieces I spent a lot of time with, like Hannah Joris’s Cura Posterior VI, but naturally some didn’t deserve the same detailed attention…dare I name Hakim and Vermandere? As a side note however, I will say that Vermandere’s statement (I found this on www.kathlibbertjewellery.co.uk) is an example to be followed!

Peter Vermandere, born in 1969, is considered to be a sculptor who likes to make ornaments. Or as a goldsmith, who likes to compose exhibitions. We can find a few more paradoxes in this maker, copywriter, goldsmith and fantasy man. Peter Vermandere would not want it any other way.

It may be difficult to decipher whether or not the compare and contrast situation of upstairs vs. downstairs made MURMURation that the more satisfying. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Either way, I left asking myself a big fat question that has haunted me ever since first hearing it a year or so ago and that continued to haunt me even more my entire Schmuck experience.

“AND WHAT ABOUT THE BODY?”

Coincidentally, we can thank Adam Grinovich.

Speaking specifically to this show, Willy Van de Velde wins the special prize for attempting to answer this question. It’s not that his work, which was showcased outside upon entering the gallery, necessarily addresses this question in its fundamentals, but the nonchalant display somehow solved the problem from which most jewelry exhibitions suffer. Who wears the work, and how?

click —->here for more.

Now let’s do some math. This was ONE gallery show out of about a million. I am in quite the predicament, aren’t I, wanting to give respect to the work where due and talk about it justly. How long will that take, forever? Probably yes. And notice that I literally only mentioned one piece by name in a show that I described as manageable. What’s worse is that unfortunately, most other shows, were not manageable; I mean that there was just too much work in one place at one time. Like I’ve expressed before, this is the problem that we face. The work deserves to be admired individually, right? Or perhaps the contemporary jewelry world is OK with eyes skimming over the tops of hundreds of meticulously made pieces into which one set of hands poured hours of research and skill. What say the artist? What about their ideal environment for their own work? Perhaps who is meant to have the piece will find it. But this sounds too much like destiny, and god knows I don’t believe in that. Let’s just try to keep going.                                                                                                        CAN YOU KEEP UP?

As for those of us fascinated and motivated by the specific complexities of our field, I find myself to be simultaneously perplexed and frustrated all too often. Although my current research here in Italy tends to leave me and the promotion of my own work on the back burner (I am fighting the good fight !), I cannot just let what I’ve done in the past sit in limbo—both physically, in boxes in the shop adjacent to my house on Whidbey Island where no one currently lives, and non-physically, on the fucking internet waiting to be looked at and thought about. Neither situation is ideal, obviously. Therefore, just like any person who makes and wants to share what they make with the world, I have been looking for juried shows to apply to. And, yes, there are some indeed, all pinned down to the world of jewelry, seemingly apt for those who call themselves any combination of the word jeweler or the like, and I myself decide at times that I’m comfortable here, just for the sake of getting the work out into the world. And if I’m going to be honest, I think my work is good; I do, some days anyway, and it hasn’t really gone anywhere, except like I said, in boxes and into the abyss that is our virtual universe. But I have run into problems even in the simplest of applications for these juried art jewelry shows, that vary internationally and by theme (I use the word theme hesitantly, as some in the field tend to not be given any, sadly.)

Let’s look at this year’s Cominelli Foundation Awards for Contemporary Jewellery. Sponsord by the AGC (Italy’s contemporary jewelry association). One of the AGC’s main objectives is to promote and spread the value of contemporary jewelry culture by creating such events. Here’s a little blurb from the Cominelli Foundation that sums up their values well:

Contemporary jewellery today represents a sector of advanced research and experimentation of new expressive languages as well as exploiting the personal ornament concept. In close contact with the international community, the association follows up a series of initiatives aimed at promoting a constructive and synergistic confrontation with other artistic and productive realities.

Pretty… progressive, no? For Italy, I would say yes. They also use phrases like “the research world,” and “new directions” while referring to chosen jewelers as “artists”. Bravo, bravo. Unfortunately, there’s a big fat però lurking under what sounds like a new venue for artists such as myself. Now I will have you read their aim for those entering the competition:

Target: The exhibition was conceived as an opportunity for goldsmith artists and designers to show their work and contribute to further spreading the knowledge of contemporary jewellery. There is no set limit to the materials they use, the measurements must not, however, exceed 15×15 cm and diameter 25 cm max.

And that, my friends, officially counts me out. And WHY? So the work can continue to be placed under plexi glass, in a god damn box? Real innovative, guys. Here we have another show dictated by old conventions of what jewelry was thought to be while expelling those recreating the medium with bigger and better ideas. Material exploration isn’t enough these days. We’ve been there. Over and over. And that’s not to say that some of the work out there that continues to push material in new ways can’t be groundbreaking, but the size limitation excludes so many artists working on a bigger scale, with more thought to where the work should live in the world and what the work can say. It’s jewelry but not just jewelry. Why the limitations as such?

It also ain’t ideal that the foundation is so strongly resting and relying on their desire to simply grow the collection; on one hand it’s great, knowing there are people out there that want the work and want others to see it. But why this way? And like I’ve said before, another show just about new jewelry is so banal and more often doesn’t say anything bout the content within each and every piece thoughtfully applied by each and every artist. If they are going to call these people artists, why must they submit to another plexi case if this is not the desired environment? What if my piece belongs projected on an entire wall? What if my piece needs to be felt in someone’s hands or on someone’s skin?  What if it needs to be seen on someone by someone else? But let’s not forget, this is in Italy. At least the country is becoming a little more aware of itself. And so many of the successful Italian artists/jewelers/goldsmiths/whatever have worked within these limitations happily, making work that satisfies with visual contemplation, not tactile contemplation (BUT IT’S SUPPOSED TO TACTLE, RIGHT?). What’s the answer here?

RITUAL, the annual contemporary jewelry show of the Gallery of Art in Legnica, Poland, also has a size limitation; the piece must fit inside a case that measures 40x40x35 cm (about 16x16x14 inches), and they say with prior permission, arrangements can be made for bigger work. Ok, I’m interested… and the size I can work with, mostly. But the catch is that this show, to keep up with their 30-year-long tradition, they write that “the inclusion of silver in the work is expected.” I’m out, once again. FANTASTIC (it’s in Poland, forgodsake, anyway?) Too bad, because this show’s theme is quite a bit more specific than that of Cominelli. To read more about it, click here.

And there are more, with their own set of problems. The real good ones had deadlines in October (Talente 2012 and Schmuck, both in Munich). Preziosa, as I’ve mentioned, was cancelled. A pity, no size or material requirements there. There’s also New Traditional Jewelry 2012 in Amsterdam; deadline isn’t until June but their theme of NEW NOMADS requires that you make a piece specifically for the theme (which I can’t really do at the moment), AND you have to distinguish yourself in one of two categories, the first being “established” jewelry artists, and the second being those in their final year of school… which I don’t fit into either of.

So then, what? Where is it I belong? Apparently I either make shitty jewelry or shitty art, considering neither sphere seems to have an environment right for me. The art world doesn’t want me, because of the burden the word jewelry seems to carry with it, as I’ve been addressing. And apparently neither does the jewelry world, because my work don’t fit into a god damn case or something. SOMEONE JUST GIVE ME A WALL IN A SEMI-DARK ROOM AND A PROJECTOR, PLEASE?

And this is why, few readers of mine, I am here, in Italy, on this grant. To sort out all of these questions and other similarly confusing and forever unsolvable problems. What is it I do? Who is it that I call myself? Where is a place that my work can go? To answer these questions, I feel it best to just create something new, shall we?

WHO IS WITH ME? LET’S PLAY HOUSE AND MAKE A HOME

LAWRENCE WEINER OPENING AT BASE PROGETTI PER L’ARTE, FIRENZE 2.18.2012

(UPDATED) I don’t like to brag, but for one lovely evening, Lawrence Weiner and I were best friends. I never really expected to go around barking about jewelry to a man like this, but he was mildly enthusiastic about what it is that I do after only just a tiny bit of schmoozing. Looking back, this night for me was kind of a game changer in a way for my research, as I had to continuously introduce myself and my interests to a bunch of people only really interested in contemporary art, which was exhausting. Honestly from that point on, my research thus shifted to the ways in which we talk about contemporary jewelry, and how to represent it as a related field worthy of interest to people that attend Lawrence Weiner openings, instead of something superficial only hovering far below. Although quite the task at times (as it really takes about an hour to do a thorough enough job of explaining so that the other person sort of gets what I mean, but instead only having about five minutes of small talk to do the job if you’re lucky), speaking to Lawrence about it was a delight. He’s the most seasoned of veterans of conceptual art, and if explained in the right way, contemporary jewelry can be nothing but conceptual. Here’s a quote from him that explains how he views what he does: I have attempted to devote the majority of my adult life to placing work within structures where they would function irregardless of what culture they found themselves in. HEY EVERYONE! THIS CAN ALSO BE SAID ABOUT JEWELRY. 

Let’s try something.

“____________ is something that’s looking for a place and banging against the walls and that’s what you think of in terms of shaking things up, It’s just looking for someplace to be. Once it finds that place, it’s no longer ____________, it’s some thing, it’s culture.”

Is this quote about art or jewelry?

…..

……………….

Lawrence also said that about art, yet notice that the words art and jewelry are entirely interchangeable.  If they each function on the same  basic level and can be spoken about in similar manners, could it mean that perhaps they could be considered as the same thing?? COULD IT? No, not all the time of course, but perhaps it’s at least worth the thought, a nice exercise if you will.

That night the two of us chatted a bit about the interference to daily life sculpture or objects can have when they are created to do just that; his work obviously functions on a much larger scale while jewelry functions much more subtly, yet they both speak of the now similarly, the confrontations each create reflecting one another. When thinking about the idea of the encounter, jewelry needs this to function, for it to truly live, so does conceptual work like Weiner’s. I tried to explain this to him, how I felt that objects or jewelry could be the physical manifestations of the same textual, emotional confrontations that artists like him put forth (how I feel that my field relates to his work in particular) and he was really receptive.

If I were any good at writing narratively, I’d now digress and tell you about the dinner a group of us went to after the opening and as we were gathering around the table, Maurizio Nannucci (super amazing artist himself/ one of the runners of Base/a dear neighbor and friend) held up a  round, shiny copper dinner plate behind Mr. Wiener’s head and called him San Lorenzo. It was a superb moment.

click —–> here for a link to the TateShotes NYC video where I pulled the quotes. 

This is a copy of the announcement that the Preziosa Young exhibition, organized by Le Arti Orafe in Florence, as been cancelled this year. CHE PALLE. It surprises me that their committee couldn’t find at least eight young artists with work worthy enough… not even eight! This is truly unfortunate because this is one of the few events of its kind, and very unique to Italy and the contemporary jewelry scene here… not to mention the personal heartache I have, having applied myself. I only waited a year for this, and have seen the last two installments personally. Maybe next year.