Tag Archives: display conventions

If one was to compare the display conventions of the Pinakothek’s contemporary jewelry collection to that of other international art museums, there is an obvious standard. Although the Pinakothek’s devoted environment is extremely spacious and impressive, the shared standard is still a banality that unfortunately extends its reach all too often. Whether elevated off the ground on pedestals or vertically assembled against a wall, seeing works in jewelry behind glass is almost always the norm (the MFA Boston, MAD NYC, the V&A in London, click —> here for a nice video about the Pinakothek’s collection…). It can be said that the usually plentiful pieces that make up a series for exhibition have to be installed; the space is curated in a straightforward manner that normally remains indifferent to the work and its ideas as dictated by the limitations of the cases. It’s a unique problem, summarized well by Liesbeth den Besten in her book, On Jewellery, A compendium of international contemporary art jewellery.

The museum showcase stresses the preciousness and uniqueness of a piece of jewellery. When an object or a piece of jewellery enters a museum collection its appreciation is changed. Its significance has increased but so has its isolation. The glass vitrine hinders the creation of meaning : the object now has an art status.

But does it really, or is it a perfunctory illusion? Does gaining an art status really mean obscuring the object’s very own conceptual underpinnings? No, I don’t think so, yet in the case of jewelry it is an excepted turn of events. One could argue that the museum’s role is to enhance the qualities of uniqueness, not push them back, yet if the artist does not present this necessity, and many do not, then how much framing of the work is required of the museum as an institution? This is where my head starts to hurt. It’s like thinking about space or something, posing questions that no one can really answer. If one refers to my “Cosmology” of contemporary jewelry, there are arguably very different categories of work being made in the field, all with different motivations that extend beyond the guise of the word jewelry. As Stefano Marchetti recently told me, some work dies behind the glass, and some work dies outside of the glass. Considering all of that while also understanding that the potential life of any jewelry work is so much more infinite than a painting’s for example (sure, you can put the painting anywhere, but a jewelry work can be taken anywhere and simply given to anyone and so on and so forth), is where things get even more complicated. Interestingly enough, this aspect does add to the uniqueness of our field, just like its inability to be easily defined, explained and labeled. I often wonder if individual preference by artist is being met, or in which ways the artist values the lives of their pieces (I have an old blog post that address this issue a bit, read it —> here). Are museums really doing the individual pieces justice? Depends on who you talk to. Perhaps the museum’s most pertinent role thus far is to simply yell, “HEY, YOU! THESE THINGS EXIST!”

 Step by step by step.

Also in the Jewellery Talks film, art historian, curator, writer and lecturer Mònica Gaspar Mallol, talks about the duality of life inside or outside the glass.

Well, if I have to tell you my background, I come from a family of art gallerists, so for me art was something always hanging on your wall or something out of your reach. I was always interest in what you can use and what you can touch and what you can make your own. So I think that since I finished my studies in art history, I went directly for this field, I didn’t have an intermitted stage with other disciplines. That’s always a very interesting conflict that not only jewelry, but any object has. The moment you put something behind the glass, somehow you betray the nature of the object. You make it sharable, you can show it with the rest of the world, but the whole nature of use, of meaning and attachment with the owner or with the collector, somehow gets lost. So I think it’s very interesting the potential that jewelry has being worn on the body, which is almost the worst place to appreciate the piece of jewelry, it’s the worst place you can put an object to really see it and understand it because the body is in movement, you have so many other inputs that can distract you from the perception of the object; it’s very interesting and very paradoxical that the body actually is the best place.

Ok, so if we’ve decided that the museum elevates the work to an art status by negating the very idea behind it, when do others get to fully understand the power of the artwork? Islanders (remember, contemporary jewelry as a small and uncharted island) recognize the potential of the work, as they see time, thought, research and tactile relationship without having to touch. Chances are they know a little (or a lot) about the person who made as well. To islanders, the glass remains satisfactory, after all, their piece is in a museum. If Monica Gasper is right, the body isn’t necessarily so ideal as a place of exhibition either. Of course everything changes and it goes far beyond the technical problems of movement, etc that she mentioned. It’s also likely that the average person never actually gets to touch or wear or experience the piece to begin with; it’s an all too rare exchange left to collectors/buyers whether independent or from other contemporary jewelry galleries. More talking to ourselves. If it isn’t in the glass case and it isn’t on the body, then where the hell is it that those on the outside get to fully understand that these objects are more than precious relics or avant-garde accessories?


As a city and center for quality museums and contemporary art, Munich also boasts some well-known contemporary jewelry galleries within its mix. In the case of Schmuck, additional spaces are created to house collateral gallery events, either as extensions of existing international galleries or independently run pop-ups. Because this entry serves to reference the specificity of Schmuck, it will avoid commenting much on the bigger name contemporary jewelry galleries that usually participate in Schmuck’s fair-like aspect; this year Galerie Marzee, Galerie Ra (Holland) and Platina (Sweden) presented themselves in this sense with set-ups adjacent to the Schmuck exhibition in the Handwerkmesse. I will also note that in general, the roles of these established and often quasi-historical galleries serve more similarly to that of the museum and are part of their own, unique system that includes a few exceptions to that very system.

Two of the more known Munich-based jewelry galleries that I was able to visit during Schmuck week were Galerie Handwerk and Galerie Spektrum, showcasing contrasting yet equally interesting exhibitions, despite my resistance to believe so. Handwerk’s show, entitled Die Renaissance des Emaillierens, boasted a list of artists too long to name (click –> here), all of whom are making innovative works with enamel. Usually with a list that extensive I normally get a bit… frustrated, yet all of the work seemed to be carefully selected so as not to appear that the gallery simply invited every single artist living on the island who uses the stuff (even though they might have). Enamel use is a common traditional element in jewelry that doesn’t see the light of day much anymore and obviously it was the exhibition’s common denominator. A show based on material is usually another ingredient for frustration but somehow frustration never ensued. Perhaps it was because most of the selected artists seemed to transcend the qualities of the material in contemporary modes, as enamel can easily connote a statement of “I’m old, irrelevant and boring.” Here is where the show rationalizes itself, an example of good curation even within a theme as banal as “what the pieces are made of.” Other antidotes to a headache include a combination of the gallery’s size (the space is enormous and spans two stories with an open floor-plan), the quality of the individual work, and the space given around each piece. Nothing was overcrowded, as it tends to often be. The gallery clearly respects the work, even though the pieces were once again bound to glass vitrines.

Here I find myself a living contradiction, as again, I was not releasing steam as I moved around the space peering into the protective display cases. I imagine this was so because Galiere Handwerk does not proclaim to be a mecca for contemporary art jewelry. It is not trying too hard to experiment with “new” display that often ends up being just as boring and unconventional as the traditional predecessor. In this sense, Handwerk acts more like a museum while employing a much greater level of education and communication because it is indeed a gallery, with someone present to talk to you about the individual works. Here is Galerie Handwerk’s blurb, absent of fuss and grounded in a special locality:

A showcase for Bavarian trades and crafts, the gallery is devoted to conveying to the general public an idea of the outstanding skills of today’s craftsmen and women and the contribution they make to society.

Mounting seven exhibitions a year, the Galerie Handwerk gives the crafts a highly visible presence on the Munich scene. The exhibition topics reflect all the diverse functions of the crafts in culture and society. They range from applied art and artisanry, through the trades and architecture, the maintenance of protected monuments, and folk art, down to design education and training curricula in the trades. The presentations cover traditional, classic and avant-garde approaches. And they extend beyond regional developments to those taking place on a national and international level. As this implies, the gallery makes a significant contribution to the dissemination and advancement of artisanship worldwide.

Fine, great even. I suppose one could say that Handwerk views this jewelry work to be that of the avant-garde. As it was a good opportunity to see pieces in person (however limited) by legendary and upcoming artist/jewelers (Pavan, Marchetti, other Italian greats alongside more internal and personal works by Carolina Gimeno and Kaori Juzu, just to name a few) Handwerk’s model as a gallery is old and of little interest to my search for contemporary new platforms that want to showcase relational aspects of work being made in the field. Even so and speaking within a very jewelry as (just) jewelry perspective, it was an impressive collection at the very least. The gallery clearly values the pieces as precious relics, and that is not untrue, of course, but my interests are less of how jewelry remains to be related to tradition and craft, and much more of how the field also (or instead) relates to contemporary art.

In contrast to Handwerk, Galerie Spektrum plays in a different ball game that deals more heavily with the artist’s overall concept by aiming to exploit it. Generally, a better example of conceptual recognition within an exhibited series is almost always seen in solo shows, if one can nail one down.

Ruudt Peters’ exhibition Corpus showcased a ring of black cloaks hanging from the ceiling, an installation seen before at Galerie Rob Koudijs last September. Peters is known for taking advantage of space to communicate the fundaments of his works, which this specific installation certainly does. Historically speaking, Peters was one of the first to be recognized for new and innovative display conventions (in 1992 his Passio series, for example, included an exhibition where he also enclosed hanging fabric from the ceiling to the floor around the floating pieces so that one would have to gently find their way in to view the work).

If one was lucky enough to attend the opening at Spektrum on the Sunday afternoon in which the exhibition commenced, Peters was in attendance gifting fragmented brooches of the pieces on show  to those patiently waiting in the long line outside. Spektrum is teeny-tiny, the line to get inside was inevitable. Instead of letting the special restrictions limit the extent to which Peters was able to expose the work’s social ingredients, he used it to his advantage. Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview I had with Peters with regard to how the performance quality in his actions can be seen as a singular artwork.

Ruudt: I asked everyone if they wanted a present, and then I gave one, and I said oh, you want –and I put it on your jacket or whatever, so I put it on everyone. But finally, I had this show of the Corpus Christi [on Sunday], and in every church on Sunday they give you the [eucharist]… I never can do it in my whole life again, a giving a present to someone, because then I kill my whole concept.

Me: And so do you see that act, that day, you doing that, as a work in and of itself?

Ruudt: Yeah. 

Ruudt Peters is interested in building a bridge off the island, he always has been, with work like this serving as a testament. He values the power of his objects, they are charged and are made to charge others, both tactilely and tactfully.

Spektrum values this too. During my visit I spoke briefly with co-founder, Marianne Schliwinski, about installation from the perspective of the gallery. She talked about how the gallery always tries to get the artist to use the full space, as exhibiting at Spektrum is also an invitation for the artist to think about their work in bigger terms or how an installation can also be their work at the same time. Schliwinski said that the opportunity asks the artist to learn more about his or her own work and how it might exists in a new environment, which can be very insightful for the artist, the gallerist and also the public. She paralleled this to self-publication, “it’s like if you do a catalog by yourself you have to reflect about your work… it’s easier to get in front of these unknown people if you have an overview.”

The unknown people are the audience, the public, people who may or may not know so much about the generalities of contemporary art jewelry. Schliwinski wants to communicate to these unknowns and wants to make the information of the artists and the ideas behind the work assessable. Here might be an example of how we are not talking to ourselves.

Interestingly, Spektrum hosted another exhibition simultaneously entitled, FOREVER YOUNG, 30 Jahre Galerie Spektrum (30 years Galerie Spektrum), a self-explanatory retrospective with corresponding photos of the gallery’s artists taken thirty years ago next two singular pieces in the outside display window. Works inside the gallery were crowded together on shelves behind glass, almost mimicking objects found inside a curiosity cabinet. Because of the nature of the show itself, a declared collection of pieces spanning three decades before, the display was forgivable and felt more like a treasure hunt or game of eye-spy.

Lisa Walker’s solo show GLEE at Galerie Biro, and Schmuck darling, Alexander Blank’s Totem on the Sideline at Galerie ARTikel3, were two more gallery exhibitions worth mentioning. I attended both openings; Blank’s happened to be quite a lot empieter than Walker’s due to the late hour of my arrival, yet thankfully so because I was able to see the artist and guests handling the pieces. Walker’s opening was literally shoulder-to-shoulder, and while she took a more conventional root display wise (walls with glass boxes, necklaces hanging on walls), there were a few pieces missing implying that guests were instead adorned. Walker herself could be found at the center of the small space with her elbow resting on an empty pedestal. I mention these two shows together due to their white box similarities yet willingness to pass the pieces around during the chaos that can be an opening event. This environment more accurately mimics that of a real life situation, as after all, jewelry is the everyday and is meant to be experienced.

As far as existing in a self referential island, these two shows had the potential to be bridge builders in their own way, mostly due to the strong and conceptual nature of Blank and Walker’s work. Blank offered a long and impressive press release (which was a text from a former exhibition at Gallery Rob Koudijis written by Keri Quick of AJF) discussing his series in a way that wasn’t confined to the world of jewelry or its history. Instead, Blank’s objects and Quick’s text speak to a universality that in turn rationalize the work’s own existence. More importantly, the verbal framework show a willingness to speak to new audiences while the anonymity of the gallery helps as well (like Spektrum, Walker’s gallery, Biro, is described as a jewelry gallery).

I would like to continue this post, yet due to a fear that it is already too long to hold your attention, I will post a part three, in time. Schmuck exhibitions still to mention will be group show, Suspended at Studio Gabi Green, Volker Atrops’ No Stone Unturned, Mia Maljojoki’s Crossing the Line, Galleria Maurer Zilioli’s showcase of artists Elisabeth Altenburg and Wolfgang Rahs, Returning to the Jewel is a Return from Exile (Robert Baines, Karl Fritsch, Gerd Rothman), the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp’s exhibition The Sound of Silver, group shows What’s in a Frame? and Pin Up. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I? A friend recently told me that my first Schmuck response sounded a bit… irritated. My friend is not wrong. Perhaps this is another reason these responses are coming along so slowly. I remember that during my last day at Schmuck I was walking around with a new friend, Sam Hamilton from Alchimia, ranting about my frustrations with display and editing, etc; I may have also told her that even after all I had seen, I was bored. She asked me, “well then, what doesn’t bore you?”  Good question, Sam, good question. And I do actually have an answer, a few really, but I am quite sure it will come with a regular dose of criticality, like always.

When Sam asked me this question, we were at the Pinakotek der Moderne viewing Ädellab – The State of Things, an exhibition of Stockholm’s Konstfack graduates. This is what it looked like.

Seemingly not so boring. Fair enough. It was likeable, it was. The neon in the back drew one in, the hanging mechanisms were not as conventional as usual and therefore mildly clever (I do LOVE rope. And how dynamic RED can be! Zig-zagging lines of red rope! I know I sound sarcastic but I really was “into it” when I first walked up the stairs), but sadly, aside from the red rope I felt the exhibition was mostly likeable largely due to the fact that the show was in a museum, a museum which, in fact, does have a contemporary jewelry collection (gasp!), and it was in an area that one basically had to walk through to navigate the wing. But although likeable, I did eventually get bored. After all, the pieces were still just hung on the wall, like always. Perhaps bored isn’t the best word; frustration soon ensued  because of the following:

A) There was just too much– a problem such the opposite of unique that I don’t know what to do because no one else seems to agree that it is indeed, a problem. I do hope I’m wrong about that. SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME! But is this just the name of the jewelry game? It is beyond a reoccurrence.

B) A lot of the work was great (!!!), you might just not ever know, unless of course you are 7 feet tall or have incredible zoom-like vision. The image below marks a point of sever vexation.

These pieces are those of Hanna Hedman, who in my opinion, is doing everything right. I’ve known about her work for a few years and this was the first time I was ever able to see any of it in person. Among the other work in the exhibition, these pieces are intricately detailed and delicate yet with a masterful presence. Hedman is beyond skilled and uses a combination of my favorite things in her work, that is traditional techniques and materials that transcend their conventional limits by making the work ever so contemporary and compelling as both objects and jewels. Something delicious for everyone. The piece in the photo on the left I surely recognized, which sadly took me a few minutes to realize because it was hung about 5 feet above the top of my head, thus the bad photo.  WHY. Please visit her website linked above (click on her name) to see what I mean if you’re unfamiliar. Actually, I’ll post a picture from her website below just to wet your whistle.

Although there was a key (each piece was numbered so that you could find the corresponding artist on a provided piece of paper), there was no individual write-up of statements for each separate work or intent. Just more necklaces that have nothing to do with one another against a white wall, categorized by the lone fact that all of the participants went to the same school. Certainly I could have taken the artist key and done some further investigation via the internet once I got home to find out more about each piece… which I am still doing. If I honestly wanted to do the work justice, I’d really need to stay in the space for a whole day, or more. Really. And ask to touch the pieces. Or put them on. Would I be allowed?  Even as I looked around, I felt guilty for leaving after twenty minutes, which was all the time I had considering what else was out there. Schmuck really forces you to spread yourself thin! But am I simply just irritated for the sake of being irritated? All I want is to know more and be able to appreciate the work on a higher level!

In a small attempt to help fulfill this desire, click —> here to read about the exhibition and see some “in context” images of a small number of included pieces. I suggest you do. Here is a quote from Danish jewelry artist and Department head of Jewelry at Konstfack (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) Karen Pontoppidan. “…The work was created because an artist, a human being with experiences, feelings, dreams and failures, wanted the pieces to be.”

I’ll let you sit with that for now as It may or may not be fuel for its very own blog post (will it be angry!?). Here’s one of the images from the above link posted below. The photo clearly magnifies the significance and thought behind the work. I honestly appreciated the pieces a hell of a lot more after seeing them.

Katrin Spranger, “Best Before”, 2011. Crude oil and its products, gold, silver

But why weren’t they included in the exhibition? This was a missed opportunity. If you recall, Anna Fornari was even able to include itty-bitty corresponding images with her display case-ridden pieces in the show Pensieri Preziosi earlier this year in Padova.

If you visit Spranger’s personal website you’ll find a refreshing artist statement and more pieces from her series, Best Before. 

Below are more pictures of the exhibition. Check back for the names of artists.

too high up!

I suppose I didn’t quite answer Sam’s question in this post, perhaps I will in the next. To clarify, and as you can see, a lot of the included work was not actually boring. Eventually I will post an example of an exhibition’s display conventions that served the pieces more appropriately. It can exist, I promise. At least one can only hope.

I also suppose I could leave you with some questions that I did not address but maybe should have. IS the work included in the show art because it is an art museum? Or is it still just jewelry that happens to be showcased in an art museum? Do they make such a strong distinction in Germany vs. other places? Does it matter? What say the reader?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully it was better upstairs.

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

Here is the ever apt statement for MURMURation:

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

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

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

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

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


Coincidentally, we can thank Adam Grinovich.

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

click —->here for more.

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

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?