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Il Gioiello come forma d’arte Museo Marino Marini Firenze. <———- !!

Contemporary jewelry historian, Maria Cristina Bergesio, is giving another round of talks this year at the Museo Marino Marini in Florence called,  jewelry as a form of art. 

For five thursdays starting today, april 11, the talks can be heard at the museum with free entrance. Hooray!

Here’s the schedule:

11 aprile 2013 Gioiello come segno. Decorazione, modificazione, distinzione 

18 aprile 2013 All is food for art Gioiello contemporaneo e materiali 

9 maggio 2013 De rebus naturae Flora e fauna nel gioiello di ricerca 

23 maggio 2013 À la recherche du temps perdu Il passato come fonte d’ispirazione per il gioiello di ricerca 

6 giugno 2013 Un certain regard Presentazione della mostra Preziosa 2013, che si terrà presso il Museo Marino Marini dal 20 giugno al 20 luglio 2013

The last appointment will be a presentation/exhibition of Preziosa 2013 which includes Karin Seufert, Philip Sajet, Suska Mackert, David Bielander, Sophie Hanagarth, and Sigurt Bronger, and Preziosa Young with winners, Panjapol Kulpapangkorn, Rob Elford, Benedikt Fischer, Karin Roy Andersson, Wan Hee Cho, Chiara Scarpitti, Antje Stolz, and Lauren Vanessa Tickle.

sophie hanagarth

Benedikt FischerJEWELRY

ART

 

 

 

 

A unique example of jewelry being accepted as art…. or at the very least, snuck into the Met via an acquisition by the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art !

From the 92Y blog, May 2011: “Wahl was trained as a jeweler and sculptor, and started this series of drawings as a response to the launch of his own jewelry line. He noticed that some people were puzzled that he creates both sculpture and jewelry, as though, he says, they were oil and water, instead of being linked to and informing each other. Looking at some pieces of Victorian mourning jewelry one day, he realized that many of the pieces, designed entirely in black and intended for adornment during the long period mourners were not supposed to wear gold, silver or bright colors, looked like sculpture. “I thought I’d try drawing them on a much larger scale,” Jonathan explains. “If they were blown up that large, they would read as sculptures, not as brooches, and people would see the common ground between the two art forms.”

Read full text here: Being Featured In The Met: ‘Like Receiving An Academy Award’ – 92Y Blog – 92nd Street Y – New York, NY.

Wahl’s work is characterized by a technical brilliance, allowing the artist to replicate a specific aesthetic found in the history of jewelry adornment. His scale shift indicates that a greater importance should be given to the chosen reproductions, forcing the viewer to pay attention to detail and appreciate the forms. The success of his work does not just rely on Wahl’s drawing skills, but it’s also due to his choice selection of era. Victorian mourning jewelry is forever contemporary, made timeless by its facets, symmetry, use of chains, and of course, its jet blackness. Wahl’s hand skills reflect those necessary to actually create a piece of jewelry like those found in his drawings, closing the gap between art and jewelry’s alleged differences, while indirectly educating the general public about moments in the history of jewelry. These drawings may spark conversation and interest into the world of contemporary jewelry with a question as simple as, what else is out there today?  For Wahl, and in this case also for the Met, jewelry ≥ art. 

photos taken from artist’s website 

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

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?

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

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

Damian Skinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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