Tag Archives: Lauren Kalman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Misha Kahn: so here’s what I realized

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

Kellie Riggs: right u told me

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

and you think

that through this material familiarity

K:  i’ve been saying that forever

M:  you can get there too

K:  well yeah

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

from different sides

K:  ok

M:  you know?

K:  it’s true

M:  you want to get let in the main door

and it’s fucking closed and guarded

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

it is not enough

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

K:  I like this analogy

it is good

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

K:  write it up

M:  of the castle

and who the guards are

K:  who are they?

M:  and who lives inside

and how we can get in

there’s… a million of them

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

from the standpoint of art

we have to do the same

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

because its like talking with a potato in your mouth

you can be saying something interesting but nobody will ever listen

K:   hahaha

right but i think it is also about semantics

mainly about that

M:  how so?

K:  and associations and connotations of the words we use

in our practice

like furniture

and jewelry

M:  right

we have to stop using the words

K:  it’s about how you wrap the present


we have to exploit a concept

or at least an idea


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

and all the conventions of craft

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

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

K:  but not relying solely on the function

just like the material

M: throughout the 20th century

craft breakthroughs

(particularly jewelry)

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

were seen as merely

pirating the aesthetic of modern or conceptual art

K:  right

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

because it was following and not leading


on the outside, yeah perhaps

but I would argue that it is leading

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

K:  today

M: I agree it wasn’t

K: I think it is totally leading today

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

K: but semantics holds it back

M: ok ok

let me finish the idea

K: ok ok ok

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

K: are you talking about Salad Bar *

M: sort of

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

already exists

M: gijs bakker

K: at least it does in the jewelry world

right but he’s just one guy

for example

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

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

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

M: the dutch just get it!

K: there are a million!

omg mish

the comtemp jewelry world is huge

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

K: yes it is

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

so people GET IT

and to align ourselves with ”ARTISTS”

for example, Lauren Kalman

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

K: she makes all that fucked up body shit

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

BUT it is


and she regards herself as a VISUAL ARTIST

this actually

is all semantics

that frame her existence and her work

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

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

we are just thinking about it in different ways

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

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

which it can be

K: what do you mean?

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

so imagine Salad Bar opens a department store

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

and exploiting

giving it a place to live that is apt

which I think is what you are talking about

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

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

K: right but I am ditching the word craft

M: it’s not that it can’t be art

K: I really don’t use it

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

M: that’s what I mean by craft

K: in the states, yes people call it that

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

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

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

K: it cannot be craft, it isn’t craft

M: I know I know I know I mostly agree

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

this isn’t going to work necessarily

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

K: right

M: we have to bring those ideas in

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

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

people make jewelry about jewelry

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

K: and that is fundamental

M: self-deprecating craft

K: right

but at this point

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

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


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

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

because they don’t value “craft”!

it is not enough

that is why reframing is going to work better

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

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

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

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

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

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

just because of these positions

like Judy Chicago!

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

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

K: I mean I agree with you

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

I think it is passé or something

I really do

it is limiting

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

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

M: no no no no no no

K: you gotta stop using the word craft!

we make art god dammit

M: I’d rather call it “lagoon art”

K: it craft-based traditional application


see??? It’s about naming!

it is sociological

M: or art with functional constraints

K: no no no it is not a constraint!

it is a CONCEPT

M: it is


M: hahaha


K: ok ok?

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


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

of course!

M: just to validate that this a CHOICE


K: absolutely

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

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

M: yes

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

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

M: but what I didn’t realize before

K: and how the object communicates




see we are talking about the same thing

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

That’s not new

K: nonono

M: we have to show artists doing both

K: ye s yes yesyes

M: even saying both seperates them!!! arrrrr

K: we can do BOTH

i know i know

M: it’s like Christianity thinking its monotheism

K: it’s tough! it really is

it is a problem

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

but that’s what we are setting out to do

K: yes

M: but about art and design and craft

K: nono

M: sorry to use the dirty words

K: not craft

M: i know i know

M: lagoon art

K: lagoon art

K: you know what fuck lagoon art

We can be real game players god dammit

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


god dammit

no we don’t

K: no

M: we are in the ocean

K: we don’t

we are in the ocean!



M: to incorporate ideas of functionality

K: yes

M: TO FURTHER our art

K: exactly

I don’t even say functionality

M: now we have to prove it

K: know what I say?


K: relationship

we build relationships

M: I like that

all of the work I’m making right now

K: it is good right?!

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


M: and making portraits of each other


I used the dirty word again

K: ha it’s ok you can use it

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

but always think about the write up

like the blurb

M: of course

K: that someone will read

what does it say?

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


it’s a fucking necklace

or a fucking table

so that will always be there

naming is lame

and we want to pull things out of people

you know let them make their own connections

critical thinking about the objects

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

because you do “use” it

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

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

it’s also a fucking necklace or a fucking table

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

K: absolutely. we are visual artists

M: then it becomes a whole lifestyle

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

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