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

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

Pieces by Renzo Pasquale

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

Sculptures by Pasquale

Sculpture by Zanella

Drawings by Babetto and sculpture by Zanella

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

Drawings by Babetto

Pasquale

Graziano Visintin

Babetto

Visintin

Babetto

Babetto – oldies but goodies

Babetto

Bruno Martinazzi

Martinazzi

Martinazzi

Visintin

Babetto

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

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

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

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

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

download the press release <——

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. 

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

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.