Tag Archives: craftsmanship

The Bright House

Saturday September 27, Camucia – Cortona, Italy / location: Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro Winery

The Bright House, a review

by Kellie Riggs

I used to talk frequently of the dream show; I never knew what it was exactly or what it looked like, but the idea was basically to imagine a space where jewelry could truly be itself, speaking for itself without too much help. The work would be together yet independent, emboldened by its company and especially by its surroundings, surroundings much different than your average jewelry exhibition, someplace more inviting. But what kind of new space would it have to be, to give each individual piece its own privacy so to speak, it’s own fortified spotlight beyond the pretense of what we are used to seeing in an installation?

The word dream implies beyond reality, the ideal, exaltation even, and that’s exactly what The Bright House was – a 48 hour ultimate jewelry fantasy if you will – if as though contemporary jewelry threw itself an exclusive, budget-less birthday party with the highest consideration of taste, beauty and even restraint. But what else would one expect when the background for the show is the grounds of a spacious and immaculate Tuscan Villa, with the colors and winds of nature sweeping through the air like magic? There were no white walls to be found here, just glass as though the surrounding structures to the jewelry were nothing more than an illusion, almost an invisible stage for the jewels on display. No cases, no security, an open invitation to touch, to try, and the opportunity for dialogue as many of the artists were also present. A feeling of safety and calmness was in circulation, a true haven of delicacies, many of which were gold.

The show was defined by two groupings of work in two locations of display, both a glass house separated by a beautiful foot path that seemed to encourage a reflectiveness of the experience. As the groomed nature infiltrated the exhibition space through the windows the textural components of each body of work was rightfully amplified; even Helen Britton’s industrial-esque work began to really belong to the environment, the movement of her cuffs became leaflike, the colors echoing the fallen foliage in the grass just yards away and the sounds they make during interaction would perhaps compliment walking in the grass through the signs of the approaching fall. Across the space was another compliment to the show’s surroundings, but this time more to the light through the trees and the changing hues of green, like in the work of Jamie Bennet, paired nicely with Peter Bauhius who presented three natural pebble-like necklaces.

Across the room was a Smörgåsbord of geometric golden treats all of which were characteristically Babetto, the most exciting piece being a quite impressively flexible and reversible square component necklace defying physical odds when handled. Anytime I see Babetto’s work I know i’m in the right place.. he brings a sense of ease to the room somehow, as by seeing him you know the rest of the work from other artists has got to be worth something. Giampaolo Babetto is my first jewelry hero and seeing new iterations of himself, which his work always seems to be, is exciting for me in all of its variations and subtleties; take for example the use of a rustic, rusty red pigment seen in his new work.

Up the footpath and into the next glass house of which the back wall features a bit of the outside world. Giant rocks climbing up the walls frame a mirrored fountain and in its vicinity more treasures are to be found. To the right Manfred Bischoff has a row of his sculptural and almost cryptically narrative gold work which are always an impressive sight, opposite that of Jacqueline Ryan whose more intimate and textural work dazzles. Ryan’s presence reintroduces the show’s connection with the surrounding nature through surface quality and moments of movement. She also forms a somewhat unexpected association to Patrick Davison’s non jewelry work (found in the same room) through shared pattern and geometry. Davison, whose pieces are the only of its kind in the exhibition, is also by far the youngest artist present, proving his work to be even more impressive than a first glance will lead on.

Something I found delightful about this exhibition is that many of the artists echo one another in sometimes indistinct yet fun ways. Rike Bartels (shown in the first glass house) to Bischoff though is perhaps too obvious an example, obvious to the the point that Bartels becomes a bit amiss once Bischoff is discovered. Alternatively, Ryan’s work is the glue of the whole exhibition noted in the way she positively brings the two spaces together, well balancing both Babetto and Britton’s work through kinetics and form, and recollecting Ferràn Iglesias’ extremely delicate, patient and passionate gold wire work from the previous room.

The Bright House is much much greater than the sum of its parts. There is no question here whether the work is good or of the highest quality, yet I will note that this particular group is surely not the most relevant or contemporary of groups in the scene at large today. In a field that seems to get fresher and fresher every year, choosing such traditionalists could have posed a problem. But on the contrary, some of the artists here are introspective legends and masters of material and they deserve the space for uninterrupted tactile and even spiritual reflection that this exhibition successfully provided… all very much dream-like to say the least.

The Bright House

The Bright House

The Bright House, location

Helen Britton

Jamie Bennet

 Peter Bauhuis

Peter Bauhius

Giampaolo Babetto Giampaolo Babetto Giampaolo Babetto Giampaolo Babetto Giampaolo Babetto

The Bright House

Manfred Bischoff

Jacqueline Ryan

Jacqueline Ryan Patrick Davison   Patrick Davison

Rike Bartels

Manfred Bischoff

Jacqueline Ryan

Ferràn Iglesias

Ferràn Iglesias

The Bright House, location

The Bright House , Lucia Massei foreground

Patrick Davison and work

Patrick Davison talking with Jacqueline Ryan about his work

Antonella Villanova (left), with Giampaolo Babetto necklace

Patrick Davison (left)  with Giampaolo Babetto necklace and artist (right)

The Bright House

The Bright House

British Artists Feud Over Use of Assistants –

LONDON (AP) — Two of Britain’s art superstars are squabbling about whether it’s acceptable to use assistants to create works of art.

The argument pits painter David Hockney, just awarded Britain’s prestigious Order of Merit, against conceptual artist Damien Hirst.

Hockney uses the poster for his upcoming Royal Academy show to state that all the works on exhibit were “made by the artist himself.”

Radio Times magazine reported Tuesday that Hockney said in an interview that the comment was directed at Hirst, who has used assistants to help create some of his most famous pieces.

Hirst has said his assistants do a better painting job than he could and that he becomes easily bored. He is best known for suspending a shark in formaldehyde and covering a human skull with more than 8,000 diamonds.


As I try to piece together visual epochs in Italian art history, it has been a bit challenging knowing where to start. As such I feel it necessary to reiterate the question I posed in one of my previous blog entries. How much do I need to know… to know? This question is bound to be reoccurring, and unfortunately there is no answer here. The best one can do in such a situation is close their eyes and pick… somewhere, anywhere– as the solutions are infinite, and quite frankly, there is no wrong path to take…right? I hope so. Doesn’t anything teach you… something?

Let’s start with neoclassicism, shall we? As part of my research proposal I was granted access to use the library at the American Academy in Rome on the top of the Gianicolo. Here would be a fabulous spot in which to digress, as Monte Gianicolo is quite breathtaking as well as the academy itself, but let’s keep going. Finding this book, The Geometries of Silence by Anna Ottani Carina was accidental. Perhaps I should fib a little and pretend that I fully intended to begin with the neoclassic era in my research; either way it suits my interest in piecing back together Italy’s visual lineage, as the neoclassic era by nature, more or less, did exactly that. I must mention that this piece of writing will function as a summary of notes I took on the text in combination with my own feedback, thoughts and questions. Things that I have decided are really important will appear in bold.

Carina, the author, begins to summarize the foundations of the era and credits of course, the revival of antiquity (again!!) that followed the resurrection of buried cities like Pompeii in the mid 18th century. Similar discoveries ultimately led to the neo-revival of living “in the ancient style”. According to Carina, a new geometrical image of the city was created. Because this all happened in Italy, an unattainable perfection of the ancient world burdened Italian artists, in comparison to the dozens of Northern European or non-Italian artists who responded more quote-unquote positively. Carina describes this as the “double valence” of the ancient model—non-Italians embraced reason, history, and the persistence of the classical world, while Piranesi (an Italian!) for example, responded in a more irrational and subconscious manner.

Piranesi was one of the few artists that reacted negatively to the past, and by Carina’s logic, it was because he was an insider. I think the words positive and negative only reference a state of mind—the words can more accurately be described as reactions made by the artists that uniquely lead to manipulations and different interpretations of the visual past. The true question is, in which of these reactions lead to innovation? In which ways was the past fuel for these artists? Carina poses some questions that help to define the way the newly uncovered past could act as contemporary inspiration. Was the past a reassuring or positive myth whose authority served as a guide and a creative stimulus? Or was it a barrier whose presence paralyzed the creative impulse? The answer can perhaps be dictated by the origin of the artist.

In the mid 1770’s artists shared a common notion of ANTIQUITY AS FUTURE whether voluntary or involuntary. For some, the past was once again an intended model for aesthetic renewal, but for those like Piranesi, the weight of the past infiltrated the work in other ways. He saw the past as a burden, a perfection that could not be surpassed. In my opinion, this is where innovation and ultimately modernization struck. Carina states, “antiquity was therefore conceived as the future, in which the past, projected ahead of time, became the model for aesthetic palingenesis.” Like in the Renaissance, artists once again attempted to appropriate history and tradition in contemporary ways. Yet unlike the Renaissance, I believe a duality of accessibility and inaccessibility differentiate the eras and the work that was made. I will attempt to explain.

Archaeological excavations spurred an excitement in Italian and non-Italian artists alike, obviously more so for foreigners (the start of the Grand Tour, sketches of archeological ruins by other European artists, etc). And for the first time in history, these artists were able to see the entire site, the entire foundation, the entire fresco, etc. The visual information available during the Renaissance in comparison was more fragmented, more limited. This created repetition in artists that followed the old style, seen Raphael’s grotesque loggias in the Vatican (1517-1519) for example. His work here with others like Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano and Baldassare Peruzzi suggest a maximum stylization of relationships in their surfaces taken from these limited ancient fragments. But 200+ years later during the neoclassic era, more of the visual past was available. This may imply more straightforward replication, a potential for little interpretation or innovation, however within this new accessibility existed an aspect of inaccessibility that in turn led to different results detached from the originals. This is because artists were not actually able to view the uncovered originals of antiquity for a significant amount of time. If they were even granted access to the sights (Pompeii and the Herculaneum or Ercolano) it was extremely limited, and they sure as hell weren’t able to sketch or take note of anything. Artists then literally had to go home to recollect and draw from memory, which in turn, created visual degrees of separations from the original models, especially when artists fabricated the completion of old ruins themselves, based on fantasies or personal aesthetic and ideas. This was true for the uncovered ruins and frescos, as well as vase paintings, according to Carina. More or less unintentional, “rather than a correct interpretation of antiquity, these episodes amounted to a betrayal of it.”


Now let’s talk about what came out of all this or at least try to mark the changes that were being made. It would be far too complicated to talk about what all the foreign artists produced after they came through Rome marveling the ancient ruins. What I am interested in is what changed in Italian art and how it evolved as such. How did Italians interpret their very own visual history as it was being dug up before them? Piranesi is an extreme example, an exception even (he was a genius!). But what was he looking at? Talking about what this man alone produced in the 18th century requires a completely separate piece of writing, but what I will mention is the fact that he was an engraver. By the mid century, Carina notes that artists became interested in recapturing how ancient Roman paintings possessed a concise way of defining form, and artists that were engravers further accentuated these qualities by the nature of the medium. “Selecting the motifs to be engraved meant selecting those elements that, to the people of the 18th century, appeared to be essential. The result of this process of abstraction was that the complexity of the pictorial substance became reduced to its mere outline. And like I said before, access to the original sites and objects was limited, and artists then looked and copied from these engravings of ancient ruins or motifs. Here we have more degrees of separation. What begins to appear is a new minimal visual vocabulary from which to build on– an 18th century abstraction that focused on linear qualities. A combination of a lack of chiaroscuro that eliminated depth and dissociation from nature created more of an anti-realistic artistic language for artists. Carina mentions the fantastical yet knowledgable drawings of decorative painter, Pietro Antonio Novelli, when making this point.

An example of this fragmented process can be seen in various reproductions of engravings copied from Etruscan vases. Some of these copies can be described as “far more advanced in the direction of linear abstraction than any paintings or drawings executed until the 1790’s.” The concise and abbreviated style can seen in the reproductions included in the d’Harcanville catalogue (Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honorable Wm. Hamilton 1766-67. The catalogue is a seminal work on Classical antiquities, mostly vases published in the 18th century), for example, may have been copied from Italian artists like Giuseppe Bracci (I am currently trying to find more information on him) and similar artists who first copied these vases, according to Carina. These images implied the work that was to come at the end of the 18th century that was executed in a new “conceptual style” able to “breakdown the perception of the image based on the illusionary optics introduced by the Renaissance.”

 Now we have begun to establish an aesthetic shift and pinpoint some of the qualities found within ancient works that were to be developed, exaggerated or disregarded as the images passed through the eyes of different artists. Another example found within the work of an Italian can be seen in the creations of Felice Giani (1758-1828). Giani was a painter that specialized in decorative work, as he designed interiors while developing a unique ornate vocabulary. He used repetitive techniques, similar to the decorative work of Raphael and his team in the loggias, yet he is noted as someone who reclaimed preeminence or value in designing decorative interiors. Carina mentions that during his time (late 1780’s and onward) decorative painting was competitive. Due to minimal costs, excellence in application, and fast execution, innovation in style developed. And because Italian features were not easy to export (frescos for example were difficult to execute in places like England due to weather, so not only were they not replicated but they also were not frequently seen because they were commissioned by private individuals in residences), new more modern characteristics were unique to Italy. Other factors included an ongoing dialog with the patron, as interior spaces were custom built. The fascination with antiquity as future was a mutual interest valued by both artist and patron, and were rooted in a local Italian tradition.

Like any good neoclassicist, Felice Giani was inspired by the relationship with the models of antiquity and the ways in which they were presented during the Renaissance. He was inspired by Raphael and his contemporaries, yet he further “intended to defend the new criteria of functionality and comfort against any showy or luxurious features”, made able by his concise and communicational strengths. He is described by Carina as being such an innovative artist that he was “able to undermined a hierarchical relationship that had been in force for centuries [painter, designer, decorator, architect, etc]…Giani revolutionized relationships.” This was in part to how he organized and directed his bottega, made up of men of many trades such as quadraturisti, sculptors, stuccoists, carpernters, etc. “Preeminence of the painter over the architect and the quadraturista that constituted the Italian variation of the theme of interior decoration, a variant where the leading role was reserved for painting.” This is important because decorative work has always been considered secondary, and again, the structure of the Italian workshop was unique to the rest of Europe. This is seen in site specificity of frescos (work in situ in Italy) and the much less hierarchical organization of roles; Giani’s workshop primarily dealt with decoration of a space and he did not work with metal, the building of staircases, fireplaces, or any of the interior architecture etc.

I think Giani was worth mentioning for a few reasons.

Reason one: decorators or designers of this era (or really any…) are rarely mentioned in art history. And since the work I do is roughly considered to be a cousin of such frivolous or minor art, I would also like to give this guy come credit for being relatively contemporary.

Reason two: Like I said before, Giani’s style was developed by the limits of his trade, insofar as the work was nonexportable and rooted in local traditions, branding it as specifically Italian.

Reason three: The decorative work of interiors is much less known in Italy in general and as such, great examples remain to be practically unknown. Those that are, tend to “possess particular characteristics and are frequently extraordinary,” states Carina. This I would say is because of the nature of the decorative arts, in combination with the philosophy behind neoclassicism. We can describe it as a summary, much like how the previously mentioned engraving examples were also summaries; definitive and specific reinterpretations that mark what was stylistically coveted by both artist and patron.

So how does Italy choose to summarize itself overtime? This bit aims to find specific attempts. The rest of the book, however, is about non-Italian painters and their respective innovations … but they were indeed, in Italy. What can we learn about Italy and the ways that it had existed in its past and relative present, that influenced innovation of the outsider? Is this important? Surely. But Italy’s inspiration was involuntary, a natural progression of sorts, that valued a traditional past and hand-made production. Carina references what is called a leapfrog syndrome, which occurs when a generation recognizes its cultural models in ancestral precedents rather than its immediate predecessors.  The neoclassic era applies to this, yet couldn’t one argue that Italy’s immediate predecessors are its ancestral precedents, because of Italy’s maintenance of it’s own visualy history? Is there really any distinction?

‘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?