Tag Archives: Otto Kunzli

aka Secret Recordings No.1

CONFESSION: Justified as research yet an attempt that left me feeling awkward and kind of embarrassed, I secretly recorded every single conversation I had with artists/gallerists/etc during Schmuck week 2012 in Munich, Germany. I am only now in the process of transcribing these conversations.

Over a year and a half ago I walked into Volker Atrops’ exhibition, No Stone Unturned, at the Zipprich antiquarian bookstore where we fell into a delightful conversation about perspectives on jewelry and its cultural relevance. Below are the highlights of our conversation (his text is black, where I chime in is grey), as well as images from the exhibition.

Images and info about his Munich 2013 exhibition are to follow.

Mr. Atrops has kindly given me his permission to post this text. 




The jewelry scene is a special club. And this club works over the whole world and that gives you an impression that something is going on. For example, Otto Kunzli, my old professor, in this world, is quite famous. He has a lot of students – but when I switched over to my home country, nobody knows about the whole scene. And here (Munich) people come in and say oh nice show, maybe it’s been 60 people from all over the world. But if I make the same exhibition in my area nobody is really – it’s not inside the scene.  So that is a pity that is isn’t really cultural, there are only somethings – Peter Skubic, he put a silver plate under his skin, you know? It was a time -1979, punk, they started to make piercings… and so this has to do with the time. Jewelry was going into body manipulation. It was really special; it was a kind of culture. Peter Skubic was sensitive, but in general it didn’t come from the academies, it came from punk, from whatever, music, and I think for the schools, it’s a pity that all this talent and all this –

There’s nowhere for it to go.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

Yeah, if you study engineering, sometimes you make a new car, maybe, and the car drives on the street, and you’re part of the whole culture. And when we study here in the academies, in Australia, in Providence, or in Amsterdam, in Stockholm, it doesn’t matter, you make work – or it was like this- you make work just for the club… mostly, not every time. Sometimes people try to get over this kind of border, sometimes.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned What is the ideal environment that you would chose for a piece of yours?


Yeah, I mean where would you like it to live? Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

That is easy. That is, you! A girl, a boy… it doesn’t matter. And so for a show, I have often some show pieces, but not so much, not only show pieces, which is good in between – but mostly I try… big rings – sometimes so for collectors, or museum shows, for the serious goldsmith/jewelry art scene collectors, I make some bigger pieces. And also when you work for fashion, you work totally different, if it has to show up on the catwalk, it’s totally different work. It’s about the size sometimes instead of what it has to do with.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

What about problems relating to typical display conventions, of a gallery for example, and how that might distance the object’s pursuit for its idea environment on a body and everything it could mean…

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

Environment… environment. I don’t want to show an environment. But maybe it’s a language problem… environment for me is this room or something. But this room, it’s like a living room a little bit. Because the pieces aren’t going out so fast, it’s not a product. All theses books had living rooms, and now it’s still kind of a living room. And to show is quite easy somehow – yes it’s best to do it also with privacy. If you decide to buy a jewel it has to touch you, it’s not about – you don’t think like a picture or a movie, or other art. So it’s totally different. When they come in (to the exhibition), mostly women, and they choose the jewelry, they make really fast decisions. I like it or I like it not, it’s really fast. It looks like it’s without thinking. And sometimes I wonder if it fits quite well.  Not every time, because sometimes it’s a collector and they want to show it’s from Daniel Kruger or Manfred Bischoff, or, it doesn’t matter. They want to show off they are collectors in the scene. Outside the scene, if you have a show somewhere else and people want to have a piece of jewelry and how they desire, is really pure. Because it has such an old history, older than painting. It’s very sexual, it’s like hair going into ornament… so it really has to do with life, your body, not dying…  so if you connect something to your body, it is what stays. You have something and you die and the warmth comes, and then it stays.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

Do you think the people that buy your work think about these things? Or are we the makers the only ones?

No no no. I think no body really thinks about it, but they know all about it. They have this in common in every culture,, everyone knows about it, everywhere. Ok so if I name it now, it is not so important because everyone know is it already but the don’t talk about it, they know it. But it doesn’t matter if someone, a little girl, if you put a nice flower behind your ear or something it is also kind of jewelry, it’s nice. The flower is a pure sexual organ, and people, humans, don’t think about that either, but they know. Do you know what I mean? I make myself nice with that attribute. And that is what is so important and more important for jewelry than with art, the art scene, and I don’t know other names…

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

Would you personally like a wider more art based/intellectual audience for your work?

Yeah I like it. Most friends of mine – because I really like art, in Berlin, also I studied at the academy and most of my friends are artists, some of them are very good but not good at selling, and others are higher end, rich – and yeah I like it very much. Art is really nice, but I think for jewelry, it is really, really difficult. And with the quality of jewelry, it is so close to the body, this is the difference, it’s so close to, what do I say, life, humanity. In art you try to make the whole picture artificial, the whole life you want to show! In a movie! In an art piece, you want an artificial piece of life you want to show somehow, that is high-end art. In jewelry, you’re still a part of life and this is the difference. With jewelry you add to life a dead thing, but you add it, you know? You add it to humans. I add something to you. In art they want to make a whole picture and they make you a second time. Yeah it is quite easy.

You think it’s easy? Yeah but I make it really easy to explain.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

Sometimes I wonder why jewelry is marginalized or placed in a supplementary category, but other days, I think that all the things that define jewelry are so special and unique that why should I care if it doesn’t end up penetrating fine art. Why do I care? I care because I think more people should get to understand why we love it and appreciate it so much, I mean it was so easy for you to say all these things, that you say people know but don’t think about, but I would love for everybody to think about them, and I don’t know how to solve that.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

It’s nice, if you have people who are rightly educated or know about all these art things, it’s nice to talk… but the really basic thing is that these people sometimes lose the way, the professors… they’re really into this jewelry art and they sometimes lose the way, so they don’t get the point anymore. So they stretch the borders, it’s quite nice also…

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

They might be trying to please too many people? 

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

It’s also ok, and it’s also kind of cute… what could happen if they really stay or came to the real point? I said to Manon van Kouswijk, in the 1990’s was making a lot of pearl chains, this really really basic jewelry piece in a lot of ways… the sexuality, it’s pure, it’s a jewelry piece that has worked for how long make man can think. Something else that’s more culture, something like gold; if I make the same exhibition in my area where nobody knows about he jewelry scene and I make it in iron, it’s difficult, it’s not possible, not really.  Nobody will buy anything. They say, OH nice show! Oh, you have ideas? You are very creative, oh! But If I make the same show in a big city, or kind of the same show in gold, everyone would say, ahhhh, I want to have it, only because it’s gold, and so it’s about culture.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

I like this idea as an experiment, maybe making the same body of work in two materials yet indistinguishable, to see what would happen. 

Because in art there is also kind of – if you put something, everything, in Germany, in the white cube, and then you put something on a pedestal, that is something really important for a lot of people; Ahh that must be higher than me, also these things are quite important.

Volker Atrops - No stone unturned

**The textile pieces shown in this show were from the artist’s wife, Brigitte Atrops, as until 2010 she was part of the Berlin based label Boessert-Schorn. 



The background to the exhibition is as follows:

“Some time ago, I was invited to exhibit in a nineteenth century villa, where I made an exciting discovery. Behind the villa was a stranded ghost ship, in the form of an enormous, abandoned jewellery factory, the captain of which was still sitting behind stacks of dusty files and reading the latest newspaper. The ship’s lieutenant led me through the treasure-filled wreck… A year later my wife and I returned on a 14-day mission to hammer out the bitter remnants of the past. Embossing, punching, winding… the 1950s fashion-jewellery aluminium we found went into the early-industrial machines with such finality, that it was almost impossible to reproduce standard pieces, as is the case with genuine handicrafts. Through cottage-industryesque labour, the crude output of the machines was bound together into sheaves of lovely jewels. The pieces are numbered and stamped with BfG (Bund für Gestaltung / Confederation of Design ). The title “Vintage Violence” as well as the arrangement of the scene photographed for the invitation card are taken from a completely different context and originate from an early 1970s’ record sleeve (John Cale). Despite all the retrospect, the pieces are completely fresh and untarnished and were  on display for the first time in the Zipprich antiquarian bookstore, within the wider context of the Internationale Handwerksmesse ‘Schmuck’ exhibition.”

volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops - vintage violence volker atrops w/ CO

Schmuck is a bit incestuous. Perhaps that can be said about the contemporary jewelry world at large. I tend to describe this world as a small, uncharted island. Indeed it is a very beautiful island where the weather can’t be beat, everybody is known and liked (nobody would dare say a bad thing about any one), and very few really want to leave. Whether that is because no one wants to build a bridge off of the island is a debate of its own. This all might be fine, after all, island life is quite delightful. But if no one crosses the surrounding waters, can new visitors from far away places ever really be expected, or welcome? Or can they even find it? This gets interesting when considering all the collective hype about the so-called ‘promotion of contemporary jewelry.’ But to whom are we promoting exactly, other than to fellow islanders?

Is anybody listening other than those who are doing the saying?

As I propose this question, I don’t even quite know to whom I am writing this blog post. Of course the islanders know what I’m talking about, as that’s how they all knew to attend/participate in Schmuck in the first place. But I hold my interest in the ways that the islanders are trying to engage a wider public or appeal to a larger audience, to those that have perhaps never heard of the island at all. What do –let’s say, foreigners—need to know? What do they know already? This to me seems impossible to gauge yet it is clear that it ain’t much. And what does the island have to offer to foreigners belonging to the fine art world?  At the risk of exhausting an already mediocre analogy, the island of contemporary jewelry needs to think more about the benefits of tourism.


I had the pleasure of running into Dr. Corinna Rösner, art historian and chief curator of the Die Neue Sammlung (International Design Museum) at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich while browsing the main Schmuck exhibition at the Handwerkmesse. She believes in the importance of the museum’s collection, a distinct entity from collections such as Pforzheim and specialized contemporary jewelry galleries. She has described work in the field as possessing “artistic will” deserving of a stronger relationship to fine art, and architecture. In the Jewellery Talks film (see in previous post —> here), Dr. Rösner expresses a need of looking to the future in the field despite the reputation the museum has to look back on history. How does the Pinakothek acknowledge this balance in a field relatively undervalued in the history of fine art (as opposed to applied arts)?

Here is the museum’s statement of concept:

With four major museums presenting art, works on paper, architecture and design under one roof, the pinakothek der moderne is one of the world’s greatest collections of 20th and 21st century art. The open and spacious building invites visitors to explore, to discover connections and gain new und surprising insights.

Perfect. No outward categorical discrepancies here.  Jewelry as a category is listed under their permanent exhibitions (which means it can be seen at all times), as the Danner Rotunda gallery space is home to works by more than one-hundred international jewelry artists, with Hermann Jünger, Otto Künzli as past curators (Karl Fritsch is the current). Although the Pinakothek has showcased solo shows for contemporary jewelry artists like Giampoalo Babetto, Peter Skubic, and Robert Smit (future) alongside the likes of Donald Judd, Barbara Kruger and Olaf Nicolai just to name a few, the Danner Rotunda collection acts more as a historical summary rather than an image of the future. Imagine putting 100-200 paintings from a fifty-year period into one room. It’s true that jewelry’s history of conceptuality is not lengthy which means the community is much smaller (as are the pieces themselves), but still we have no categorical or artistic distinction between the individual works beyond that of the j-word. Is this fair? Although it pains me to express negativity to this undeniably wonderful collection in a real art museum, we do need to take it a step further. It’s not enough just to have the jewelry in a museum, even if the pieces do receive new sets of eyes because of it; the work needs to be treated equally with the same sense of criticality, selection, explanation and artistic representation. I have already expressed my feelings toward the Ädellab – The State of Things exhibition, also at the Pinakothek; you can read more —-> here.

Dr. Rösner and I only spoke briefly about the Pinakothek’s four independent museums, hers being the Die Neue Sammlung which represents design, jewelry and applied arts. Her curatorial position remains distinct from the fine art department, architecture department and graphic arts department, each with their very own directors.  She spoke of the independence as a crucial element to the cooperation of each department, each with their own exhibition, collection and curating policies. I asked her if she valued then a distinction between the good work within the contemporary jewelry world being separate of what is considered to be contemporary art. “Yeah because it is not the same, although there are relations of course. So the big chance is to have it under one roof, but to have each piece from the museum to have its own power. Each director is fighting for his part.”

I then asked about potential overlap between departments, if there would ever be an exhibition that merged contemporary painting with contemporary jewelry for example, but Rösner could only speak to hope. She indicated a conservative nature of the fine arts department in regard to such collaboration, yet did say that a curator from the fine art department of the Neues Museum in Nuremberg (there are two departments, one for contemporary art and the other for modern design) is much more open as she is from a younger generation. Here’s a statement from the Neues:

Design and art are given an equal weighting and enter into a dialog – the idea of consistently adhering to such a policy represents a worldwide first and sets standards for the future.

Rösner told me that the museum has already hosted artists like Karl Fritsch, Lisa Walker and Annamaria Zanella. But more importantly, she mentioned that the contemporary art curator at the Neues, who I believe is Melitta Kliege, actually purchased a ring by Karl Fritsch for her own collection. This minimal transaction is a monumental sign that the overlap is in sight, at least here in Germany. “It’s like an invasion, working underground… it’s a process. One has to be patient and build the next step and then build the next step,” something Rösner says that can grow with the kind of energy felt at Schmuck.

Rösner reminded me that other big time museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York do, indeed, have contemporary jewelry collections, and the Met’s curator, Jane Adlin (associate curator for design and architecture in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art), did in fact make the trip to Munich (Rösner had actually shown her around that very day). The Met’s website boasts a searchable database for pieces in the collection, however currently it is an underdeveloped educational tool if one doesn’t know what one is looking for. The contemporary work is sadly lumped with the historical and precious pieces, even though there is a clear knowledge of separation from past to contemporary (for example, read this bit from AJF —-> here). When comparing the Met to the Pinakothek, surely Munich takes the cake for better framing and acknowledgement of the field’s innovative potential, speaking more to a conceptual history than merely that of jewelry’s reputation as supplemental or decorative. Let’s also not forget that Dr. Rösner had to remind me the Met even had the collection, as they usually only devote one or two pieces to floor space (correct me if I’m wrong). In the Met’s defense, there are about 16 other departments to fight with for the floor space unlike the Pinakothek’s four, not to mention that most of the Met’s collection was donated just a few years ago. Step by step.

Bettina Speckner showcased at Schmuck

Jamie Bennett, Bettina Speckner, Tracy Steepy

Peter Skubic at the beer hall, slinging some of his pieces over pretzels (out of a tupperware !)

getting friendly, Wolfgang Rahs in the background

everyone was glad to see the Scmuck Bar


A jewel once you say so. A conversation between Christoph Zellweger and Manuel Castro Caldas , 1999

(Zellweger is a contemptory jewelry artist and Caldas is an art historian, curator, critic of contemporary art, art director. This interview was also taken from klimt02)

Manuel Castro Caldas – Looking at your work in retrospect, the first idea that comes to mind is that you belong to a specific family of contemporary jewellers, whose authors position themselves very bluntly within the tradition of jewellery as a craft, while questioning certain of its basic principles and premises: value and worth, function and aesthetics, what is jewellery, what it once was, what can it be tomorrow…. Do you feel that you’re part of this family?

Christoph Zellweger – Definitely…!

mcc – What about tradition? You make works of jewellery and I am thinking, for example, of the critical posture that led some painters to not make paintings…

cz – You can not make a painting without reference to painting, not jewellery either without reference to jewellery and relating the jewellery itself to the body. But you can reject, be critical with one’s own tradition. It’s just that at certain times, rejection is an option. Radical rejection of what came before is a creative option.

mcc – Do you feel this is still possible now?

cz – Things have changed. Twenty years ago there was a discussion going on among some contemporary jewellery artists in Holland and Germany about whether gold should even be used anymore, because gold was in the midst of a political crossfire in conjunction with the South African system of apartheid. Naturally that was a question of ethics, etc., but it also had to do with jewellery itself and it had a lasting effect on our self-understanding and the way we continue to use non-precious materials now. Today we are moved by very different topics, although, again, this involves ethics and political postulates. Currently, more jewellery makers are thinking about the body, which is being altered and manipulated more and more for medical and aesthetic reasons.

mcc – Some of your recent work addresses that question. You use expanded polystyrene as a material for jewellery, you form body parts or you chrome-plate bone-shaped pieces made of gold. In all of your work, I see this recurring idea of hidden materials, things that are not exactly what they seem to be at first glance.

cz – Now since CNN and Dolly, it really is not so easy to say anymore what is what, what is real. Manipulation is all around us. It has become a serious question, whether you should spend a huge amount of money on gold jewellery with lots of diamonds, or whether you should have your nose straightened or fat suctioned out or have your hip joints renovated for preventive reasons… I think people accept that now that the body does not have to stay as it is and are willing to also invest in improving their bodies, in cultivating their appearance, the way they used to do especially through the medium of jewellery. A more perfect body increases status?

mcc – Do you see a certain aesthetic appeal in the implanting of silicone cushions or metal parts in the body, rather like the jewel within?

cz – These parts themselves are often quite beautiful. Through an uncle, who is a casualty surgeon, I obtained a number of second-hand models. They are made with great precision and skill; they really are exquisite objects made of special high-grade steel alloys to be inserted in the body. But in order for it to be jewellery, there has to be a conscious intention about it. My works are not intended to be inserted into the body, and I have nothing to do with plastic surgery either. Yet I relate my work to the body, to the parts and shapes of the body, to whatever in our society is becoming technically possible, imaginable, feasible, and of course also to the aesthetics of these implants. Years ago, the jewellery artist Peter Skubic was already experimenting with objects under the skin. Currently an American sculptor is implanting arched steel forms directly under the skin…

mcc – We’ve come a long way since Otto Künzli’s “gold makes you blind”, that famous piece where a golden ball was hidden in a rubber bracelet.(1)

cz – That was a crucial, an important piece. He rendered the issue of value visible by hiding the actual precious material. Of course the gold is still there, but it is not the visible material value that is enticing, it’s rather the elaboration of the theme that is attractive and has been implemented in a wonderfully aesthetic way. I do see an analogy here to the steel implants, where value and beauty are hidden in the body.

mcc – Your work seems to deny ‘mere’ form, but one would not call it conceptual either, in the strict sense of the word. Your pieces show that they’re made with the utmost care, incorporating a great deal of care and attention to detail, to the craft. However, you’re also not a technician…

cz – The challenge is to implement the ideas in such a way that more is created than is actually visible. I am interested in a kind of ambiguity; … nothing can really be seen in only one way and no other. … I am also interested in crossing the borders to other disciplines. The borders between design, fashion and politics, art and philosophy are not static. There is movement at the margins, the boundaries are constantly being shifted, torn down and rebuilt. These boundaries interest me because something is happening there. Jewellery can be very much oriented to function and design, very expressive and personal, but it may also be conceptual – an idea. Jewellery touches on the whole spectrum; it can be anything – for the person who wears it or possesses it.

mcc – In many aspects, you seem to approach the question of meaning and significance like an anthropologist. It has to do with use. What do you see is the role of the body? How does the jewel work as a sign on the body? Why and when and how do people wear it – and is that important?

cz – It is important. I have some kind of a potential wearer in mind, someone with a certain attitude, who wants to get something out of the piece. But it’s never related to status, it relates to something much more personal. You wear the jewel or you hold the object and you behave different, you change your attitude… The object generates this tension, for yourself – but also for others.

mcc – Why do you need this ‘powerful’ object in the first place? Do you wear it (or make it) because it’s missing in the world? And it’s powerful because it refers to what is missing?

cz – Someone told me a story about this guy who bought a picture and then he hung it the other way around, turned to the wall, because it was too confrontational, too strong. But it had to be there, it was important. I think the oldest jewel must have been a piece that someone just wanted to carry around – close to the body – wanting it as something that was of significance to him or her – something that would give power. It can do so in the most subtle ways.

mcc – I’ve mentioned before that your pieces are very carefully done, that obviously incorporates labour. But they end up looking very economical, very light, in the sense that we don’t see the hard labour hammered into the piece. The craft is respectful of whatever – whatever else – is already there…

cz – If you don’t see the making, then it’s all right. I don’t like when the craft gets in the way… you did it, the work must go beyond the labour…

mcc – Six years ago you worked with Lego blocks and honeycomb in an installation in Austria, now you work with steel and with polystyrene. Does that mean you start again from scratch with each new idea?

cz – Whenever it is required by an idea I try to learn the necessary techniques, whether it be computer manipulated images or cast steel. With the polystyrene works, for example, I had no idea of how to work with this material, but I was fascinated by its qualities. Expanded polystyrene consists of tiny, originally opaque little balls, single, cell-like particles, which are made to expand tremendously through the use of steam and pressure. Finally, they condense into a shape. Cell for cell, they form a fragile body.

mcc – It’s very biological…

cz – It’s very organic, it’s about bodies…

mcc – You mean that you saw the material as metaphoric in itself?

cz – A metaphor where you wouldn’t know exactly everything that it could be a metaphor for… I became aware of this material for the first time in 1986-87, in Asia, where it floats around in even the most remote little stream. It is an universal waste product, an omnipresent product… and it is beautiful.


(1) …’a bangle of black rubber, the interior consisting of a golden ball – like a snake with a small elephant in its body.’
original text, Otto Künzli, 1980 (a photo of this piece can be seen in the blog post about Künzli below)






(pay attention to this one above ! and below for that matter!)


The following is taken from an interview with superstar Otto Künzli.  (Marcus Teipel from klimt02, 2003)

MT:  Where are the boundaries between Art and Goldsmith?

OK: I shall formulate this differently. I believe that jewellery is a form of educative art, like painting, sculpture etc. I don’t put these things next to each other or under each other anymore. Seen like this the question suddenly becomes: “Where are the boundaries between art and painting?”, and of course no one asks this question. It is of course obvious that the different media with all their relations differ, too. For me as well as for my students the question of feasibility, taboos and boundaries is always subject matter. I believe one must try to find these boundaries oneself, because they’re not where one is told that they are; one has to direct this oneself. Often these boundaries are diffuse and vague. If one believes to have surpassed these boundaries one is proud, looks back and realizes that there was no boundary, that it has moved itself in the meantime etc. One day one awakens and asks oneself suddenly, where the centre of this damned piece of jewellery is and the whole game starts anew.

I came across this review on AJF. It’s great. As always, what appears in bold, is worth remembering.
06 September 2011


Damian Skinner

Cindi Strauss (ed). Ornament as Art: Avant-garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection. Houston & Stuttgart: The Museum of Fine Arts & Arnoldsche, 2007.
ISBN 9783897902732

This review was first published in The Journal of Modern Craft, v.3, n.2, July 2010, pp.269-272.

And so here it is, the enormous catalogue to the Helen Williams Drutt collection, acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) in Texas and co-published by that institution and Arnoldsche. Presided over by Cindi Strauss, curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design, the publication is an extraordinary resource, packed full of analysis, images and the tools of art history (biography, bibliography, chronology and exhibition history). Divided into four parts, the book is in some ways a schizophrenic entity, in part an homage to and documentation of Helen Drutt and her collection (and in general the important role of the collector) and in part a scholarly contribution to our knowledge about contemporary jewelry around the world. It is also – and unashamedly – an old-fashioned catalog, featuring a carefully researched checklist of the collection.

Drutt’s contribution to this project is not overlooked. She contributes a somewhat self-serving essay called ‘A Golden Age of Goldsmithing: Four Decades,’ about the importance of collectors and their role as historical caretakers, securing history in danger of being lost by acquiring objects and narratives. Drutt is also interviewed by Strauss, which, while interesting, effectively duplicates and personalizes information we have read before in Drutt’s own text.

While there is much that is impressive here, the title – Ornament as Art – establishes one of the things that remains problematic about this catalog. Jewelry, with the assistance of the concept (and mythology) of the avant-garde, will be transformed into art. As Houston MFA director Peter C. Marzio writes in his foreword, the museum acquired the Drutt collection ‘motivated by the belief that fine art transcends all media and academic classifications.’ ‘The Drutt Collection attacks traditional academic, art-historical categories,’ writes Marzio. Accordingly, ‘This subversive challenge forces us to abandon certain conventional modes of thought and to redefine ideas of sculpture, painting, decorative arts, and so forth.’ Thus, the collection is intended ‘to open up the traditional categories of artistic expression, and to welcome “craft”, “design”, and “jewelry” into the galleries.‘ It’s notable that art is neither mentioned here, nor given speech marks – but of course not, since this is the defining term. Here, jewelry becomes art by ceasing to be jewelry and therefore part of the crafts. Jewelry, it seems, is not subversive enough to tackle the hierarchies of art history, or to affect the automatic assumption of fine art’s primacy.

While it’s common to imagine that the art versus craft debate no longer has relevance, there is still a lack of sophisticated analysis about this issue. This book disappoints because, putting aside the lack of rigor in Marzio’s foreword, the promise and premise of the title is never fully tackled. The major argument about jewelry’s status as art unfolds in Cindi Strauss’s essay ‘Minimalist and Conceptual Tendencies in the Helen Williams Drutt Collection,’ in which Strauss demonstrates how minimalism and conceptual art offer ways to think about a number of jewelers collected by Drutt.

It is nicely done. Strauss notes that the interdisciplinary nature of minimalism and conceptualism made them relevant to jewelry along with other fine art and craft practices. She also saves some agency for the crafts: ‘Many jewelry artists who were active in the major art-making centers and universities during this period also embraced elements of these movements, yet it is incorrect to imply that jewelry artists active between the late 1960s and the 1980s adopted their tenets in a wholesale manner. Rather, they utilized some of the strategies in forging their own artistic identities.’ She rightly suggests that the strategies of both movements hit jewelry as part of a larger shift in the field and that jewelry was restricted in its ability to conform completely to either: ‘Because of its reliance on form and not merely idea, jewelry, whether decorative, sculptural, or born from serious design and intellectual processes, is unable to adopt these strict conditions as defined by [Sol] LeWitt and others. For regardless of artistic or intellectual associations, what sets jewelry apart from other media is that the boundary between the idea, object, and the body cannot be completely separated.’ She demonstrates that Giampaolo Babetto, for example, made jewelry closely aligned with Donald Judd’s sculpture and the work of other American minimalists: ‘Like Judd’s Specific Objects, these three-dimensional works are neither painting nor sculpture (nor jewelry) but rather self-referential works that exemplify seriality.’

And so it continues, with references to David Watkins and Gary Griffin (Minimalism) and Otto Kunzli (Conceptualism). Strauss concludes, ‘The intersection of Minimalist and Conceptual strategies with contemporary jewelry presents new frameworks for understanding jewelry, frameworks that reinforce the validity of art forms across media, regardless of function. . . . Jewelry that prioritizes ideas, whether Minimal, Conceptual or something else, refuses to be pinpointed as simple adornment. The result is that, by removing artist-made jewelry from the realm of the expected, its true nature and possibility can finally be experienced and realized.’

In actual fact, what is realized is not jewelry’s true nature but its nature as art, which means adopting a submissive and provincial relation to fine art. Discussing Babetto’s minimalist jewelry, Strauss writes, ‘The fact that they were made from precious materials and required the hand of a craftsman would have negated them ideologically in Judd’s eyes; however, the lineage of influence still remains strong.’ Jewelry, it seems, can only ever be poor Minimalism, compromised Conceptual art, which surely leads to the question: why bother making it into second-rate sculpture? Why not leave it as really good jewelry? And why not make the case that Babetto’s jewelry actually challenges the legitimacy of Minimalism’s conclusions, offers a critique of Minimalism’s limitations?

But the main problem I have with Strauss’s discussion is its restricted terms of reference. As a platform for arguing the premise of the book – that jewelry is really art, and can play with the big boys – why choose such a limited focus as minimalism and conceptualism, which at best only relates to a small portion of this collection? There would be a range of other possible ways to effect this transformation, including appropriation, relational aesthetics, postmodernism – even modernism itself would get as good and much more inclusive results. Indeed, the first section of the interview with Helen Drutt makes the case for modernism very strongly. ‘I had never seen a brooch before that could be identified so closely with the aesthetics of fine art,’ says Drutt of her first purchase, a brooch by American jeweler Stanley Lechtzin. Take modernism as a movement of philosophical propositions about art – not as an aesthetic or stylistic phenomenon – and you have the tools to argue that almost all of this collection is art.

As a reader from outside North America and Europe, one of the most notable things about this publication – and Drutt’s collection – is its geographical inclusiveness. Drutt really got around the globe, making connections overseas and getting to far-flung locales where contemporary jewelry was happily being produced. To her credit, Strauss works hard to maintain this global outlook in the book, especially in the essays on featured works in the collection. Between two and twelve pages each, these texts are well-illustrated and comprehensive introductions. Most hearteningly, they sustain the awareness of the breadth of contemporary jewelry practice happening all around the world, not just in Europe or America.

But this dynamic is hard to juggle and at times Strauss’s act comes tumbling down. In her essay ‘A Brief History of Contemporary Jewelry, 1960-2006,’ an almost impossible task, Strauss writes from a kind of moving geographic position, shifting zones as required to lay out the significant movements and ideas of contemporary jewelry internationally. The essay is focused on infrastructure, sociological information about groups and networks, exhibitions and institutions. In part it is a checklist, demonstrating the depth and breadth of the Drutt collection and revealing how this collection gathers authority through its encyclopedic coverage of jewelers who have been central to the practice from the 1960s to the present.

Yet there is also something limited about this presentation of international jewelry discourse. The Drutt collection is great because it allows for a wide range of locations for contemporary jewelry; people all over the world get a look in. Strauss also pays attention to a varied array of countries in her essay. But much is flattened, homogenized. This isn’t global jewelry discourse so much as European one masquerading as something international. The opportunity to challenge definitions of contemporary jewelry practice is again not fully capitalized on. The catholic selection of jewelers working in varied and often conflicting ways, suggests the real possibilities of Drutt’s collection to construct some kind of international jewelry discourse to which everyone is invited. But Strauss’s attention often seems to be elsewhere.

The limitations – indeed the impossibility of what Strauss and this publication set out to achieve  – is most on display in the chronology in the appendix. This heroic but ultimately doomed exercise results in a surprisingly detailed document that is at the same time extremely parochial in its concentration on Europe and America (with a sprinkling of Asia and Australia thrown in). I’m really not sure it is even meaningful to try and achieve something like this, since either everything from everywhere is included (clearly impossible) or the chronology can’t support the scope of the collection and the international story it tells.

This very interesting and impressive publication is required reading for anyone seriously involved with contemporary jewelry. The problematic aspects of it are not unexpected, since what project with this kind of grand ambition would not suffer speed wobbles somewhere along the way? But it seems to me that some of the limitations of this project are intimately tied to Helen Drutt and the way her stamp is felt everywhere in this book. What might have been possible if Drutt herself was less central to the end result? This book is a lavish celebration of an amazing collection and an extraordinary resource that the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is lucky to have. But as a monument to one woman’s activities, it becomes a flawed representation of contemporary jewelry and, for all its marvelous aspects, somehow less than one would hope for.