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semantics

Hello,

I have added a new page to the blog! HOORAY  ———————————–CLICK ON IT!

I recently gave a short presentation about my progress at our Fulbright midterm, and some had asked me if I was going to post a version here. Yes, indeed I am. You will now be able to find a newly edited version of the diagram that I posted in a previous entry, broken down so it’s easier to read and hopefully to understand. I’m not quite finished, stay tuned for more bits and pieces. You will find the page above, indicated by the word:

COSMOLOGY.

THE NEW PAGE ATTEMPTS TO ANSWER THIS SEEMINGLY UNANSWERABLE QUESTION:

Please don’t be shy and tell me if you find an error, think I should add someone, or have something to say about the definitions. I want to know what others think and feel and believe ! “Outsider” perspectives are extremely valuable also– those that may think they don’t know anything or feel they ain’t qualified to have an opinion often have the most insightful things to say.

FEEDBACK > NO FEEDBACK

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. 

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

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

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

Christoph Zellweger – Definitely…!

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

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

mcc – Do you feel this is still possible now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

mcc – It’s very biological…

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


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

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

______________________________

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is taken from an interview with superstar Otto Künzli.  (Marcus Teipel from klimt02, 2003)

MT:  Where are the boundaries between Art and Goldsmith?

OK: I shall formulate this differently. I believe that jewellery is a form of educative art, like painting, sculpture etc. I don’t put these things next to each other or under each other anymore. Seen like this the question suddenly becomes: “Where are the boundaries between art and painting?”, and of course no one asks this question. It is of course obvious that the different media with all their relations differ, too. For me as well as for my students the question of feasibility, taboos and boundaries is always subject matter. I believe one must try to find these boundaries oneself, because they’re not where one is told that they are; one has to direct this oneself. Often these boundaries are diffuse and vague. If one believes to have surpassed these boundaries one is proud, looks back and realizes that there was no boundary, that it has moved itself in the meantime etc. One day one awakens and asks oneself suddenly, where the centre of this damned piece of jewellery is and the whole game starts anew.

Pensieri Preziosi 7                                            Gioielli “d’Italia”

 Linguaggi e tendenze nel gioiello contemporaneo italiano. 

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of visiting the final day of contemporary jewelry exhibition, Pensieri Preziosi, the 7th installment of a yearly event in Padova.

This title slash introduction can be translated in a few different ways. Preziosi is precious or valuable, while Pensieri is thoughts, thinking or mind.

Whichever your preferred combination, the emphasis is most definitely on the value of the ideas embedded within these new languages and tendencies of Italian Contemporary Jewelry.

Fifteen diverse artists (some young, some seasoned vets), present their interpretations of il gioiello or the jewel, or small and precious sculpture, as translated from the catalog of the two-month long exhibition in the Oratorio di San Rocco in Padova, Italy, presented by the AGC and il Comune di Padova. Appropriate language is discussed in the catalog; for example, the invited are referred to as artisti-orafi (artist-goldsmiths) capable of making work that transcends the limits of size with research-based decision making, unusual or “non-traditional” materials in a methodological and freedom-like approach.

There is also talk about the difficulty to define this kind of work. Why is there not a clear name that sums it all up? Here’s a bit of a paraphrased translation that points to some of the problems:

The world of jewelry, as noted, is multi-faceted and complex. It is not possible to follow the lines and the evolution, or to assess the development and prospects without creating the appropriate distinctions to define this field. The so-called and frequently overlapping boundary lines must also be taken into consideration in order to clarify a definition that distinguishes this current creation of jewelry.

Curated by Mirella Cisotto Nalon, the exhibition was a real treasure. It is rare to be able to so easily see pieces of this caliber in one place; if you’re one on the inside, you know that seeing good work of the like anywhere is really quite difficult. It seems to me Italy is up on its game all things considered. These artists are valued and showcased locally and even supported by the city. What is so fantastic about this work, including the conventions and locality of the show in addition, might also be its limitation. These artists value tradition, an Italian aesthetic developed and nurtured beginning in the 1950’s (in regard to goldsmithing, that is), yet the ordinary displays may hold the work down and keep it within the realm of tradition a little too much, regardless of unique material exploration or research-based approaches. But the big question remains, does all that matter? Can the work stay within this small-town feeling realm and that be enough?

Perhaps it ought to go further and be considered by a wider, more intellectual, even fine-art based audience. There are a few artists within the show much more deserving of this kind of attention, and I will mention them by showing images of their work below. But the reasons are not the same and up for debate, naturally. Soon I hope to post an entry i’ve been working on slowly and thinking about for quite some time that discusses the different avenues presented by various contemporary jewelers, in effort to give the work more finite articulation. What is contemporary jewelry after all? Let’s see what the Italians have to say.

ADREAN BLOOMARD

gold, enamel

Opus, 2011

Opus, 2011

Opus, 2011

Opus, 2011

Amphora, 2009

PATRIZIA BONATI

d8, 2011

sorry, I forgot to write down the name of this one 

RITA MARCANGLEO

Metamorfosi, 2011

In and out,  2003

Let me out,  2003

All wrapped up,  2003

Stuttura, 2001

Party,  2011

FABRIZIO TRIDENTI

Restricted area,  2008

Spilla, 2010

Budding,  2007

Chs2,  2007

BARBARA UDZERO

Blob ring_dente dell’artista,  2006

Blob ring_incredible destino,  2008

MARIA ROSA FRANZIN

Guarda – Ascolta – Pensa, 2011

Dark moon, 2010

Oggetto ombra, 1990

Doppio cerchio,  1999

ANNA FORNARI

“…voci attraverso…”, 2011

“…voci attraverso…”, 2010

“…voci attraverso…”, 2010

EUGENIA INGEGNO

Dorea, 2010

Dorea 2,  2010

Pablito el Drito,  2010

Tutte le strade portano a Roma| Every road leads to Rome,  2009

Andros,  2009

Full list of articipants: 
Maria Rosa Franzin

Fabrizio Tridenti
Barbara Uderzo
Anna Fornari
Elisabetta Duprè
Maurizio Stagni
Andrean Bloomard
Patrizia Bonati
Lisa Grassivaro
Lucia Davanzo
Stefano Zanini
Rita Marcangelo
Eugenia Ingegno
Fernando Betto
Simonetta Giacometti           (links provided by http://padovacultura.padovanet.it)

AN INTERVIEW WITH ALTERNATIVES

Rita and Andrea Marcangelo are the owners and operators of Alternatives, a contemporary jewelry gallery in Rome, Italy. This conversation took place on the 18th of December, 2011. For more info about the gallery, click —–> here

Kellie: Let’s start with a bit about the gallery. You have been here for about 15 years now?

Rita: 15 years now, yes.

K: This is a unique space for Rome. Since its opening, how has the gallery changed? Is there a difference in the people you meet who are coming in?

R: Well yes, in the beginning they were quite shocked by what they could see because it was 15 years ago—things were quite different. What’s changed in the mean time I think is the general outlook on materials, because of the fact that a lot of industrial jewelers are now incorporating steel and things like that. People have got more used to seeing alternative materials in jewelry, and so this has kind of made them less hostile to it because of what we’re doing here. So it was quite difficult in the beginning. People were like, “Oh! Are these for sale?”

K: Sure, I imagine because this kind of gallery is so unique, when people walk in thinking it’s a shop, they must be sort of confused. Is your gallery now more of a destination?

R: Yes, definitely yes. We have a clientele of people who know they can find certain things here.

K: This is quite a gem, it really is.

R: Thank you.

K: I was surprised to find a relatively large contemporary art scene here in Rome that I don’t think many people come to the city for. How would you say the gallery is connected to the larger contemporary art sphere here, or what is your relationship to other mainstream contemporary art galleries in the city?

R: Oh, none whatsoever… in the sense that this field here is quite, not only in Italy but worldwide, is quite apart from what art galleries do in general. They’re sort of parallel; they don’t seem to ever meet, if you see what I mean.

 K: Are you interested in trying to converge, or getting those people in here to see the work in a similar way?

R: Yes, yes it would be interesting. It would be interesting to how the public would respond to—and in a way we have done that by taking part in Collect in London, which is at the Saatchi Gallery—it’s more for a public who is looking to collect this sort of jewelry, people with more of an open mind. It’s very difficult I would say, Andrea do you have anything to add to that?

Andrea: It’s for the public that is looking for art…

R: Art, let’s say, the world we are in, art jewelry, and, you know, real art as it were—they don’t seem to mix much.

A: Not very much. Not very much because the public, the customer, or the collector, is quite separate. It is quite difficult to mix—the people usually buy glass or ceramics in this way.

K: Do you think it is a reflection of people being unaware that this sort of art form exists?

R: Well, I think it’s both that, obviously. To a large extent, it’s the fact that they are unaware of it. But it’s not just that. I think it’s also the fact that the art world has its circuit of critics and there’s a market there, whereas this sort of art, let’s say, if we can call it that, doesn’t have a market for these sort of things. You could even be one of the best like Babetto or Skubic or any of those, but your pieces will have a market when you’re buying—I mean they have their price on them when you’re buying them, but if you were to resell them, unless you’re selling them to someone in this sort of field who knows about what the value is, then you’re not going to be able to remarket them at the same price.

A: It’s not an investment for them.

R: It’s not considered an investment from their point of view, because of the fact that there isn’t a market as such, an official market. Whereas in the art world, if you’re a top name then you’re going to be able to sell well, and the people buying, thinking of it in terms of also an investment… apart from the pleasure of actually having the work of art in your home or wherever…

K: So it’s almost like a separate but quasi-equal sort of thing.

R: Yes, exactly. It’s like a railroad track.

A: They’re parallel. In fact in the business sense, it’s very difficult for them to cross. In the other sense, the artist sense, it’s completely different kind of crossover. There’s a big difference [between the two]; the business sense is parallel, but there are two different markets.

R: But also I’ve seen a lot of resistance, if I can call it that, on behalf of art galleries, as it were, to let this sort of art into their galleries.

K: It’s incredibly apparent. I’m interested in finding people and galleries that will take this kind of work, or at least for them to start thinking about a crossover, and I think what has to happen first is people creating new spaces for that. A lot of my thinking is about how to do it. What you are saying about the different markets and investment aspect of it all is interesting when you think of it this way.

R: Yeah. I think that counts a lot.

A: Jewelry is also a used— they become used pieces.

R: You actually wear them and use them.

A: Yeah, it’s a consumer piece. You buy, you wear, you destroy… and there is not quite a long term that you really can use it necessarily.

R: It depends on the material also.

A: It is an art of time, it’s a short art.

R: A short-term art.

A: Exactly. A sculpture, you put it in the corner and it can stay there for a thousand years. But jewelry as a piece of art, you wear, you destroy.

R: I’ve many times bought things that have just broken or just disintegrated. I had a—I have a very beautiful bracelet in plastic and it’s coming apart, I’ve tried to fix it but…

A: If you take this bracelet, who knows in 33 years, the plastic maybe will…

R: Right, it won’t last.

A: This is another unique aspect of the jewelry art, the art jewelry.

K: This may be a loaded question. How do you, as a gallerist, see jewelry as an expressive form of art? I have this theory, greater than or equal to, and sometimes I see the potential of jewelry to be greater than because of some of the things we’ve been talking about—how you live with it and use it— and I would say, as a concept, that is far greater than just hanging something on the wall and having it there forever.

R: Well I wouldn’t say it’s greater than or less than; it’s one of the many forms of art to me anyway, so I value it equally. To me, it might be more valuable because I might get more enjoyment out of actually wearing a piece of jewelry, but not necessarily I think. I would like to consider it as I would a beautiful sculpture that I look at in my house, that I enjoy looking at. I might get less enjoyment, because I’m not actually physically touching it and wearing it, but I would put them on the same level, whereas I think a lot of people wouldn’t.

K. Absolutely. Do you think that in Italy, versus other countries in Europe and America certainly, there is a bigger community of people who understand that? How do you gauge the awareness of jewelry’s artistic value?

R: Compared to other countries?

K: Yes, sure.

R: Well I think compared to for example, Holland and Germany, there’s less awareness here. Because I think an important factor is that there aren’t any museums here in this country dedicated to this sort of jewelry, whereas in other countries like the States and Northern Europe, you get museums that are totally, or not totally but partially at least, dedicated to this sort of art. Whereas in Italy, there’s just a small section in Palazzo Pitti in Florence…and that’s about it. And so you don’t get much public awareness, because I think it’s important for the public to actually see this sort of jewelry in a museum to be able to associate the idea that it is a work of art. And if you don’t, then you just see it in a gallery, you know, as if it were a piece of clothing or any other object you see around in shops, and it’s not quite enough, especially because there aren’t that many galleries in Italy anyway. We are one of the very few. It’s very hard. And as a gallery, you don’t get any funding or help from the state anyway, so it’s all up to private individuals.

K: It seems almost strange because of the historical and cultural significance of jewelry in Italy’s past, like the Padova School [at the Instituto Pietro Selvatico, Padua] and the artists coming out of Italy. Maybe Italy doesn’t see it but there are artists in Italy that do see it. It’s interesting how culturally undervalued it is; it continues to exist under the radar. I know that in Padova, there are cultural events that do showcase these goldsmiths and artists, but it is of course, very regionalized.

R: Have you seen the exhibition on at the moment in Padova?

K: Not yet, no.

R: All right, I’ll give you an initiation afterwards. Remind me, it’s a very nice exhibition, in a nice place where they usually hold their exhibitions.

[The exhibition is called Pensieri Preziosi 7 at the Oratorio di San Rocco, and deals with languages and trends in contemporary Italian jewelry]

K: It’s so strange, that sort of divide though, because it is so prevalent to a degree there, and we all know it exists of course. What is it going to take for the work from Padova to receive some more historical recognition, in Italy and internationally?

R: Well, Padova?

K: Yes, and Italian contemporary jewelry in general.

R: Well unfortunately, the situation in Italy at the moment has changed for the worst. Because from last year was it, that the schooling laws have been changed?

A: Yes, the school system has been reformed. For example, the old school dedicated to jewelry, to traditional jewelry—

R: To jewelry making, they actually…

A: Yes, the actual Padova School… in fact they are finished. They’ve become only an artistic school, not professional. And so they lost all their workshops and—

R: Yes, they have a lot less training hours now, so that’s going to change some things. Historically, what has come from the school of Padova has been internationally recognized. You’ve probably seen the book on the school of Padova [The Padua School, Contemporary Jewelry, Graziella Folchini Grassetto], there are a couple of important publications. So it has internationally been recognized as the most important school in Italy for that sort of jewelry, and historically also. But I think the future will be quite bleak from that point of view.

K: Why do you think there is a lack of historical publications that document the evolution of the medium’s creative reality? If there’s no money going into this type of schooling in Italy anymore, then I suppose there certainly wouldn’t be any money for research either.

R: Yes, that’s right. You mean in Italy?

K: In Italy, or even as a reflection from other places internationally on what was happening in Italy. As I try and do research on the history of contemporary jewelry, there really is nothing.

R: There’s not much, no.

K: Like this book, it’s all sort of self-published writings, and very few articles. There’s no art history literature about what’s happened in the field over the last 40- 50 years, there’s just nothing.

R: There’s hardly anything.

A: There’s absolutely nothing because we don’t have contemporary jewelry culture.

R: Also, another problem is we don’t have a craft council here in Italy, whereas other countries do. And something like a craft council or an organization like that would in a way, invest in research on this sort of thing and also encourage publications to take notice. There’s nothing whatsoever unfortunately, and everything is as you said— this book has been published by one of the galleries in Padova, and I guess she got no funding for it.

A: In fact this is a big problem, because people recognize the beauty of this kind of jewelry, but they don’t understand the value. This is absolutely different from the other kinds of jewelry [conventional], but because there isn’t a culture around the value of the craft, they don’t understand the aspect of time as value. Work made of paper, for example; how long it takes to create a brooch out of paper or with other kinds of material.  And this is the biggest difficulty we have. If we put in the window, a piece made from plastic, what appears to be the difference between it as custom jewelry or ordinary jewelry?

R: I mean we have one of those, for example, very big pencil necklaces [Maria Cristina Bellucci] at the back, and it’s around something like 500 euro. And someone the other day said, “500 euro!?” But they don’t understand that making it, apart from the idea and what’s behind it, but actually making it probably took her about three or 4 days; you know, cutting up all the pencils, putting them together, drilling them…

K: For us when we look at anything, all we see is time. It’s hard to understand that people don’t see it.

R: Right. It’s not so much that they don’t see it, but they’re not prepared to pay that much for it. Probably because things have changed worldwide, I mean you know, clothing for very little because it’s made in China, and you can have the same sort of thing that once was— I mean if you think about it in a way, what we’re doing is a little, it’s going against, not against, but…I can’t find the words today. It’s contra corrente, come se dice in Inglese? It’s going a little away from what the rest of the world is doing. Everything is becoming manufactured, and we’re going the other way.

K: Well that’s the best part about it.

R: But it’s difficult in the world we live in today, to actually let people understand this.

A: The world has changed completely in the past 10 years… I mean people don’t want to pay for the idea, people only want to pay for the object. People think now to to pay less for everything. You can go around and buy anything you want for a very little bit of money, or in installments… so now why would someone also pay for an idea?

R: I mean we get this all the time. Somebody came in yesterday looking for a pair of earrings. She found just what she wanted and said, “Oh, they’re beautiful! How much are they… oh, but that’s too much! I mean there’s no gold, there’s no… why am I paying all this?” And it’s like trying to make people understand all the time, and it’s just so difficult!

K: I can’t even imagine!

A: Do you know Ikea? Their advertisement says, design furniture, without the price of design. So you have people thinking like this.

R: And that’s what people would like to have probably, from this sort of jewelry. Jewelry with this sort of appeal and design, but an Ikea sort of price.

K: I am sure it must be so frustrating.

R: It is, it is.

K: I would just love to witness a whole day of this, I would love it. So do you think that maybe if there were future crossover with this kind of work in a museum for example, people would start to understand that there’s more value than material?

R: I definitely think that helps, because when we get people in from Holland for example, they are a lot more willing to pay more money and they’re not even questioning the materials or you know, you can tell they have a completely different attitude from people here. It’s been a very big struggle for us since the beginning. It’s obviously better than it was, but we’re having to explain all the time and having to—whereas when we go to London for Collect, it’s a lot different there as well. You just get another sort of response from the public, and I think it’s due to the fact that they see a lot more of it around and so it’s accepted.

K: Are there people that may not know anything when first coming into the gallery that, let’s say, open their eyes after you explain a little about the work? Is there education going on?

R: Oh yes, yes. That happens a lot. We try our best to educate people.

K: We’ve been talking a little bit about the “Italian awareness.” You were involved in starting the ACG (Associazione Gioiello Contemporaneo), correct?

R: Yes, that’s right.

K: There are a few more too—the Fondazione Cominelli in Cisano di San Felice, a more widely spread cultural and artistic foundation. There is also Preziosa in Florence, presented annually by Le Arti Orafe, and a relatively new collective also in Florence, the 1×1 Collective, formed my a handful of young artists aimed in promoting contemporary work. On the AGC’s website it’s written that it was created “due to problems specific to the world of contemporary jewelry.” What are the problems?

R: Well the main problems in Italy were that the actual jewelers working in this field were very isolated; people from the north weren’t connecting to people from the south, and so I think the whole idea of the association, obviously apart from one day being able to reach a more general public and wider public which is what is happening with Cominelli actually, but I think the main idea [with the AGC] initially was to get these people together so that being together, means being able to do more. Forming a platform, forming a community I think is important. Because if you’re on your own, you’re not going to get anywhere, do anything, so that has helped a lot. I think it’s helped a lot of people in actually developing their actual work. And connecting to other people means being able to do exhibitions together and things like that. Yeah, that’s helped. Also the association is now forming a permanent collection.

K: Really! That is so exciting.

R: Yes, and it’s on show on the moment actually, in Salò [in Brescia at the Palazzo Municipale]. Did you go and see the Cominelli Awards?

K: No, unfortunately. When was it?

R: Beginning of September.

K: Yes, I arrived in Italy that week so it would have been impossible.

R: So yes, that’s now started, and there are already 38 pieces in the collection but it’s going to grow year by year.

K: Where will it be kept?

R: At the moment it’s near Salò, in this Fondazione Cominelli, in Lake Garda. That’s the actual place it’s kept at the moment, and then we’ll see in the future.

K: That is very exciting. You spoke about Italy’s own problems concerning contemporary jewelry, and I have a more general theory as to the bigger issue of overall acceptance of the field. I really think much of it has to do with language and semantics. I always talk about jewelry in the way that the word jewelry itself, is it’s own problem.

R: Right, it is.

K: People tend think of it as so many other things before they think of it is art or artistic. And so even talking about it with someone like you, someone that knows about it, just how we choose or what do we choose to call ourselves is complicated and convoluted. What am I, am I an artist jeweler? Am I a studio jeweler, a contemporary jeweler? Do I make art jewelry? Am I making wearable sculpture? It’s a really confusing classification, marginalized in the sense that it is also “craft-based.” But even if we claim or accept that we are partially craftspeople, the good work is far too unique and deep-rooted to be limited as such. None of these titles seem to communicate what exactly we are doing.

R: It can’t be seen just as craft. I personally hate these terms and it’s just so—if you choose one, you’re sort of stuck in that. Design jewelry, art jewelry, why give it a label? But I think it’s probably necessary because these words exist.

A: Or maybe not. Maybe it’s not necessary to classify.

R: It’s the same in Italian, it’s exactly the same in Italian. In England, they call themselves designer-makers.

K: Oh wow, singer-songwriters.

R: Jewellery designer-makers.

A: Because now, for artists in the fine art world now, they don’t too much actually make their very own art pieces anymore. Like they’re designers and somebody else makes the work for them.

R: So it’s more of an idea, really, and actually made by a craftsman.

A: In the Renaissance, the difference between the arts and craft didn’t exist. It was exactly the same.

R: Yes, after the Renaissance it separated.

A: The artists continued to make their work in the Renaissance. But now, artists just think about the work, and they don’t make it.

K: I’ve been having conversations with my advisor here– she is an art critic, curator, historian…among other things, about the potential of jewelry artists penetrating the contemporary art world, or making work that in one way or another fulfills those requirements. In so many words, she expressed a widespread view that unfortunately, in their world, makers cannot be thinkers. She suggested teaming up with a contemporary visual artist and making their work for them, because like you both said, that is what is happening now, artists outsourcing their work.

By this logic, artists can make jewelry—or artists can have jewelry made and have it be art, but for we who make jewelry, it doesn’t get to be art because we are the makers.

R: That’s right.

To them, the paths we chose are about making, not about thinking, but I don’t think is necessarily so agreed with anymore… well at least I hope.

R: No, I don’t think so either. It is discouraging.

K: Some days I think that I would really love this conceptual jewelry or research-based jewelry to be considered as contemporary art, without having to ask questions about what it’s called or what we should call it. But other days I just want to just love jewelry for what it is and appreciate it for being its own entity, so as far as that goes, I’m trying to understand what matters. Would you like your gallery to be more widely considered to be a place for contemporary art? Or do you value that it is jewelry in any sense of the word?

R: It’s a difficult question. It’s a difficult question in the sense that obviously, I’d love this sort of jewelry to have a wider public in a way. In that sense, I would like it to become something on a wiser scale. But other than that, it’s fine by me. In fact, I’m quite disturbed about this art world rating us as a B-class. It’s quite disturbing, and I don’t find any less pleasure in looking at these things than I would in looking at something they consider art. In a way I’m quite proud of what I do.

 I think that’s basically all that worries me, trying to get more people to actually understand this type of jewelry. But other than that, I’m really quite pleased with the fact that it even, you know– of what it is, of what it represents in its own rite. I’m quite happy with that. It’s just being able to get more people to appreciate it and understand it without it having to be such an effort.

K: Exactly. I have his sort of spiel now. When people realize that I make jewelry they usually ask me, “Oh, so do you want to work for Tiffany’s?” or something, and then I have a 20-minute explanation of how jewelry can be this and can be that… and after I go through it all, a lot of people had never heard of it before and think what we are doing is just so amazing and new.

A good friend of mine is a recent graduate at Brown in contemporary art history and she really wants to be professor. I’ve given her the spiel, and fascinated, she began trying to look into it herself from a historical perpective. Of course she can’t find anything like we talked about earlier, but her fabulous idea is now to work some of this jewelry history into future curriculum, so people can actually learn about it. If you’re in an art history class, chances are you won’t argue with your professor that this stuff isn’t “real art…” it’s very idealisitic but an avenue we can begin to think about.

R: Andrea went to the same sort of school as the School of Padova here in Rome, and he knew nothing of that.

A: Even the university in Padova, for example, the art university, they don’t know anything about the Padova School.

R: It’s incredible.

A: It’s in the same very small place, but they don’t know anything. They think, “contemporary jewelry? What’s this?” They live here! And they don’t even know they have the biggest contemporary jewelry school around.

K: For my grant I had to write a very specific project outline and I titled it, Past and Present: Italian Contemporary Jewelry as Art; I had this idea that everyone here knew about this world, so this is a bit of a surprise! I guess they don’t. I feel lucky to know about it. Even at RISD, where the Jewelry + Metalsmithing program is adopted from a European art academy, I had to come to Italy and meet an American art critic outside the program to learn about it. And so even going to a specialized school that values conceptual development and research-oriented work, if they don’t tell you, who will? I’m starting to realize that perhaps there are not as many people interested in this, really.

R: Not many people interested… I don’t know. I guess you’re right in a way, but why? The question is why. Is it just a money-based factor, or is it… I don’t know.

A: For what?

R: The fact that there isn’t a lot of people interested in this type of jewelry, this world, that there isn’t much interest about all this. Is it an economic factor or… I don’t know.

A: Because it is very difficult; you take a sculpture, you put it in the corner, it’s responsible for itself. If you buy jewelry and wear it, you are responsible. But it’s very different from dress or clothing, or anything else you put on. Because with jewelry, you bring a very strong message. Some people dress horribly! But the jewelry is absolutely stronger than the dress.

R: What he’s trying to say is that jewelry makes a statement, in a way. This sort of jewelry would make a statement on who you are or on what sort of person you are.

K: When we start talking about the fundamentals of what a jewelry object is, it’s surprising to me that it is not valued conceptually. You start to think about the sociologic aspects. For example, you’re wearing a brooch. Who gave it to you? When do you wear it? Where do you put it at night? How do you live with it? I see it on you and now we’re talking about it and having a personal interaction, and to me, that is incredible. My mother is a flight attendant. I saw her a couple weeks ago and she had found a ring in the bathroom and gave it to me. It was just some cheap, fake diamond sort of thing, and I put it on and all I kept thinking about was who did it belong to before? What life did it live?

I also always think about jewelry as a social signifier and that as its own concept. How do you know a king is a king? And then of course, there are those trying to transcend the value of material—all of these qualities are so rich and fundamentally conceptual, to me anyway. We always have to deal with socioeconomics of jewelry, we always have to deal with the monetary value, and they’re relative limits that we get to work within, just like any other artistic mediums with limits to work within. And so I’m trying to find artists working this way that address these things, not so much making jewelry about jewelry, but those trying to make a larger comment on its role in the world. To me that is such an amazing concept. It’s so obvious, but people just don’t think about it.

A: There is another aspect; there is no money in the contemporary jewelry field. There is in the industrial field, whereas in the research field, there is much less. No one invests in the new models or new ideas of jewelry, it is very conservative. It’s mistaken from traditional jewelry. Now for example, things have changed very quickly. The traditional jewelry concept is quite finished for western society. Now the jewelry has become very cheap. If you see all the iron jewelry around…

R: The industries just don’t invest in research at all.

K: What else. We can talk about who you’ve had in the gallery this year, or who either of you value as am innovative maker/thinker in the field, I’d be curious to know.

R: Well, for sure I think Ted Noten is definitely to be considered. I mean he, I think, is a typical example of somebody who could easily be in the art world.

A: Absolutely for sure.

R: More, maybe so, because at times I think some of his pieces are probably even not wearable.

K: He’s an excellent example, someone who figured out a secret formula.

R: Yes. Who else can we mention? There are so many people.

A: Ruddt Peters.

R: Ruudt Peters, yes, he’s another one. He’s very, very active. He changes his collections every year or two and he’s always coming up with new ideas.

A: The Dutch designers—

R: Yes, Holland.

A: —they are freer, probably because they lost the idea of having to wear the jewelry.

R: They’re not so preoccupied with what wearing jewelry means, so it becomes something else. But not necessarily at times, it’s still on the border of jewelry and sculpture, I would say.

A: It’s an everyday fight with the wearable concept. This is a wonder of contemporary jewelry.

R: And obviously there are more well known artists who are making jewelry all the time and have had a lot of success, more or less doing what they’ve always done from the very beginning.

A: But this is our business, because if you don’t push the concept over the fence, why would you create new jewelry or continue to make traditional jewelry?

R: Going back to Padova, why do you think they stayed with gold, do you have any ideas about that?

K: That’s one of the questions I’m trying to answer.

R: Right, I was wondering whether you had any answers from anyone explaining that.

K: All I can say really, is that it is just so very much Italian. I’ve been looking for clues within Italian art history about how Italy has been able to summarize itself. For example, what did Italy take from its rediscovered past, let’s say, during neoclassicism? Then I think of rational architecture and the attempt to create a national aesthetic identity from the past; architects were looking at the way imagined geometric buildings and structures were rendered in 14th century paintings, as well as simple Italian rural architecture… and then you skip to the 1950’s and 60’s, when these goldsmiths out of Padova started making innovative work, and I really can’t say yet how much of it was a response to modernism or how much of it was uniquely Italian, surely the maintenance of gold as a material parallels Italy’s value of the past.

What do you think?

R: Well the idea of Mario Pinton who was the—

A: Of the Padova School.

R: [To Andrea] No, now we are talking about the Padova School and the masters and why their aesthetic was so geometric…

Gold has also been the traditional, let’s say, material in Italy, and I think the idea was that of continuing with that material.

A: We’ve grown up with the gold, and we’re continuing in the field.

R: It’s what they knew how to do.

A: It’s our culture.

R: It’s the culture.

K: The Italian trend is maintaining a cultural tie.

R: What they tried to do was to actually push the boundaries of gold to see what could actually come out of carrying on with that same material; I think that’s what was in their concept. And the fact that most of the works are very minimalist, apart from maybe the initial pieces—

A: A part is because it’s part of a tradition, but on the other hand, the use of gold is an intention of the artist. The gold gives the work more power, so if you take a very simple shape for example, a simple square ring [points to a ring by Giampaolo Babetto], if you know it’s in gold, it’s a little bit different. There is more respect, and that, for example, the very simple shape and the very minimalist form could make them very important objects in gold.

K: This reminds me of engravers during the neoclassic era. For something to have been engraved in that manner, it was a very finite and precise decision of what to render, extremely selective and tedious.  This has the same sense to it; if one decides to “just” make a cube, a perfect cube and it is made in gold, one can’t quite argue with that. It really highlights the decision and the choice of the artist.

A: The decision to use different material is absolutely important…for the color, but it’s not only the color— it was a way to convince people that it was a real piece of art. People used to think of jewelry as only in gold. If it’s not in gold it’s not jewelry.

R: A lot of people still think that.

A: It can be a different shape or of a different idea but in gold; it’s still jewelry. People may think, “I don’t understand, but that is jewelry because it’s gold.”

K: You’re right.

R: I mean for 1979, these rings were probably something very, very innovative. I mean, you just think of it as a normal ring now, but you have to think of when it was made [referencing Babetto].

K: I can imagine. I have become quite obsessed with him, I have. I can honestly credit this man for my being here entirely.

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Previous recent exhibitions at Alternatives:

Kazumi Nagano / Maria Rosa Franzin – L’insostenibile leggerezza dell’oro (The unbearable lightness of gold) – 10.11-3.12.2011

Michael Becker – The architecture of light – 22.9-15.10.2011

Graziano Visintin – Geometrie Variabili – 7-29.04.2011

 Alternatives Gallery is located on Via d’Ascanio, 19 – Rome

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

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

Damian Skinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTIONS FROM THE BIENNALE DI VENEZIA 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAY TUNED FOR #2

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

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

Misha Kahn: so here’s what I realized

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

Kellie Riggs: right u told me

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

and you think

that through this material familiarity

K:  i’ve been saying that forever

M:  you can get there too

K:  well yeah

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

from different sides

K:  ok

M:  you know?

K:  it’s true

M:  you want to get let in the main door

and it’s fucking closed and guarded

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

it is not enough

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

K:  I like this analogy

it is good

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

K:  write it up

M:  of the castle

and who the guards are

K:  who are they?

M:  and who lives inside

and how we can get in

there’s… a million of them

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

from the standpoint of art

we have to do the same

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

because its like talking with a potato in your mouth

you can be saying something interesting but nobody will ever listen

K:   hahaha

right but i think it is also about semantics

mainly about that

M:  how so?

K:  and associations and connotations of the words we use

in our practice

like furniture

and jewelry

M:  right

we have to stop using the words

K:  it’s about how you wrap the present

right?

we have to exploit a concept

or at least an idea

primarily

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

and all the conventions of craft

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

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

K:  but not relying solely on the function

just like the material

M: throughout the 20th century

craft breakthroughs

(particularly jewelry)

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

were seen as merely

pirating the aesthetic of modern or conceptual art

K:  right

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

because it was following and not leading

SO

on the outside, yeah perhaps

but I would argue that it is leading

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

K:  today

M: I agree it wasn’t

K: I think it is totally leading today

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

K: but semantics holds it back

M: ok ok

let me finish the idea

K: ok ok ok

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

K: are you talking about Salad Bar *

M: sort of

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

already exists

M: gijs bakker

K: at least it does in the jewelry world

right but he’s just one guy

for example

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

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

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

M: the dutch just get it!

K: there are a million!

omg mish

the comtemp jewelry world is huge

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

K: yes it is

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

so people GET IT

and to align ourselves with ”ARTISTS”

for example, Lauren Kalman

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

K: she makes all that fucked up body shit

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

BUT it is

conceptual

and she regards herself as a VISUAL ARTIST

this actually

is all semantics

that frame her existence and her work

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

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

we are just thinking about it in different ways

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

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

which it can be

K: what do you mean?

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

so imagine Salad Bar opens a department store

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

and exploiting

giving it a place to live that is apt

which I think is what you are talking about

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

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

K: right but I am ditching the word craft

M: it’s not that it can’t be art

K: I really don’t use it

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

M: that’s what I mean by craft

K: in the states, yes people call it that

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

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

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

K: it cannot be craft, it isn’t craft

M: I know I know I know I mostly agree

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

this isn’t going to work necessarily

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

K: right

M: we have to bring those ideas in

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

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

people make jewelry about jewelry

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

K: and that is fundamental

M: self-deprecating craft

K: right

but at this point

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

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

M: RIGHT – BUT!

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

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

because they don’t value “craft”!

it is not enough

that is why reframing is going to work better

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

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

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

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

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

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

just because of these positions

like Judy Chicago!

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

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

K: I mean I agree with you

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

I think it is passé or something

I really do

it is limiting

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

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

M: no no no no no no

K: you gotta stop using the word craft!

we make art god dammit

M: I’d rather call it “lagoon art”

K: it craft-based traditional application

ha

see??? It’s about naming!

it is sociological

M: or art with functional constraints

K: no no no it is not a constraint!

it is a CONCEPT

M: it is

K: THAT IS INHERANT TO THE OBJECT

M: hahaha

ok

K: ok ok?

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

right?

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

of course!

M: just to validate that this a CHOICE

K: YES YES YES

K: absolutely

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

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

M: yes

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

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

M: but what I didn’t realize before

K: and how the object communicates

M: THIS IS IMPORTANT

the artist HAS TO BE THE SAME PERSON

K: YES

see we are talking about the same thing

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

That’s not new

K: nonono

M: we have to show artists doing both

K: ye s yes yesyes

M: even saying both seperates them!!! arrrrr

K: we can do BOTH

i know i know

M: it’s like Christianity thinking its monotheism

K: it’s tough! it really is

it is a problem

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

but that’s what we are setting out to do

K: yes

M: but about art and design and craft

K: nono

M: sorry to use the dirty words

K: not craft

M: i know i know

M: lagoon art

K: lagoon art

K: you know what fuck lagoon art

We can be real game players god dammit

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

M: FUCK YES

god dammit

no we don’t

K: no

M: we are in the ocean

K: we don’t

we are in the ocean!

M: CHOOSING

K: CHOOSING

M: to incorporate ideas of functionality

K: yes

M: TO FURTHER our art

K: exactly

I don’t even say functionality

M: now we have to prove it

K: know what I say?

M: WHAT ?

K: relationship

we build relationships

M: I like that

all of the work I’m making right now

K: it is good right?!

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

K: YOU ARE BUILDING RELATINSHIPS

M: and making portraits of each other

sorry

I used the dirty word again

K: ha it’s ok you can use it

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

but always think about the write up

like the blurb

M: of course

K: that someone will read

what does it say?

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

because

it’s a fucking necklace

or a fucking table

so that will always be there

naming is lame

and we want to pull things out of people

you know let them make their own connections

critical thinking about the objects

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

because you do “use” it

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

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

it’s also a fucking necklace or a fucking table

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

K: absolutely. we are visual artists

M: then it becomes a whole lifestyle

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

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

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

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

Some highlights :

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

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

<—-click here to read the whole article 

I want to talk about a few exhibitions I saw at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC- I visited the museum almost two months ago, just a few days before I flew to Italy. It was my first time there; I went with a great friend of mine, Kim Kadish ( look her up in NYC; she’ll make you some BLANG) who also graduated BFA RISD in Jewelry + Metalsmithing (that’s right, there is actually a plus sign IN the TITLE OF OUR DEPT).

The exhibition on display, A Bit of Clay on the Skin: New Ceramic Jewelry, was organized by the Foundation d’Entreprise Bernardaud and curated by Monika Brugger, German-born goldsmith and artist. The show was impressive in many aspects, mainly for the master of skill involved and the command over material. Some standouts in my opinion were Ted Noten’s gold-lustered porcelain pendants (Wearable Gold, 2000). -Ted NotenNoten again and again masters the one-liner in his objects- he possess an ability to communicate one simple yet solid idea in an approachable yet aesthetically pleasing manner. Yet Noten is not solely regarded as a studio jeweler- his work is acknowledged in other spheres of contemporary art. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Noten just gets it. In the write-up next to the work, Noten states that there exists a “ceaseless craving for wealth of which jewelry is a perpetual metaphor.” BRAVO, Ted, bravo. And THANK YOU, Ted, for making  “gold” necklaces that anyone can where. Like I said, a one-liner.

Katja Prins presents more sensitive work aiming to deal more exclusively with human interaction to the worn object as an extension of one’s own body. Here the material quality of the work does not reside so heavily in concept- the porcelain is but a means to communicate form and thought. Like Noten, these works are from the early 2000’s- I point this out only because the show title indicates the work as new…is ten+ years ago really all that new? Despite ten year vintage, the work of both artists remains to possess an appeal that seems to transcend time.

More recent work by Evert Nijland and Marie Pendariès too caught my attention. For example, Pendariès piece, La dot, 2008, comprises an assortment of modified porcelain teacups, saucers and plates adorning a woman in a photograph. I will not go in length about this piece, but watch out! I do intend to site this work in a later bit of writing.

While browsing, my friend Kim and I spotted one of the younger security guys opening the drawers underneath the far left display cases. We realized that they housed some of what must be the museum’s permanent collection. Ok, jewelry is small. We get it. Not hard to keep the work in a drawer, especially when you think about maybe where someone keeps their own precious jewelry in their home.  Maybe it’s a drawer, maybe it’s locked in a case in a drawer- that is something to think about. But something else to consider is whether the work does indeed function in these drawers. How often does the work even get seen living in an unmarked hiding place? Kim and I would have never known to open them up had it not been for the security guy’s curious boredom.

What we have here is a dilemma. Us contemporary studio/art jewelers (whatever you want to call us —-> REMEMBER THIS) talk about the problem. I mean personally, it would mean a lot to me if one of my pieces were to be accepted into this museum, whether in a show or in a drawer. Then I get to write it ON PAPER. But now let me come back to the word function. If jewelry is a relationship, an interaction, sentimental, meant to be worn- then why the hell would I be happy with my pieces locked under glass in a closed drawer?

BUT the problem is beyond that. Like me, other studio jewelers consider themselves to also be artists. We too deal with concepts, research, history, and traditions. We are part of a conversation and we aim to communicate our ideas through the work that we make. And to be considered real game players in the contemporary art world, theoretically the work should eventually be in a museum, shouldn’t it?

This is the dilemma. Where do we want/should the work live in the world? It is complex; a problem with no real solution that satisfies all the needs we as artists have but also what the work itself deserves. However appropriate or inappropriate the display conventions are within a museum, I think we must value the inclusion of our work regardless. It indicates a critical eye; someone must distinguish the good work (with research value/content/AN IDEA) from handicraft and exploit the conceptual nature. But do I think this porcelain jewelry show really be used as a successful example?

On the next floor up in of the museum, there was another show dealing with a theme of nature. Now as much as I loathe nature themed shows because the work is always empty and cliché and ugly, Flora and Fauna, MAD about Nature surprisingly filled me up in ways the porcelain show only left me hungry. The selection here was a diverse mix of American craft, design and art objects, where big-time contemporary artist/jewelers like Lola Brooks, Sondra Sherman and Ted Muehling each had various pieces. Although this show was heavily associated with craft and craft-based traditions, Beth Katleman’s porcelain wall piece, Folly, 2010, was the show stopper. Read her press release here -Beth KatlemanThis piece transcends time, tradition, craft and subject uniquely, and frankly deserves to be in a show with a bit more depth and range of conceptual work. I would love to talk more about this piece but this post is long enough as it is and I don’t think I’ve really made my point yet.

Unlike the jewelry exhibition downstairs that was organized around a theme of material. Nature, i’m afraid, is one teeny-tiny step up on the concept level. An exhibition centered around material and material alone isn’t enough! I mean, can you imagine an exhibition called, A Bit of Paint On Canvas: New Oil-Paint Paintings? When will jewelry shows stop emphasizing this fundamental as though it is a sound and meaningful concept? This kind of thinking only perpetuates the craft-based nature our work undeniably maintains and struggles to move beyond. Themes like this will not elevate our trade or shift the outstanding perceived notions.

The material is a given. We need to ask others to look beyond it and see something that promotes bigger and better ideas. Although I appreciate the venue (there are far too few gallery spaces in America like this), this material-focused theme only degrades the original concepts and communicative aspects put forth by some of the more research-based artists in the show. I mean my god, there may as well be a big fat neon sign that screams CRAFT! on the way in. -Katja Prins

With the risk of being redundant, material based shows only ask those to look at the material and not necessarily the context. Material should be emphasized only when chosen wisely to enhance the concept, increase the implied associations and to aid in tactile experience

This is where I think the nature show works a little harder. Each individual piece can more easily be considered independently from one another, and the material from which it was made. And again, thinking about how the museum relates to this framing of work: does the institution give justice to the work or does it just label what’s inside as this or that? How much benefit of the doubt can be given to those that enter and does it even matter? And finally, how can we make the work more approachable in a way that doesn’t dumb down the content, meanwhile facilitating an understanding of the intended functions, roles and relationships?

And for god sake, why are the museum cafés always so goddamn expensive?