Tag Archives: Galleria Antonella Villanova

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

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.