Munich Jewellery Week 2016 – dead or alive / Part I

This year MJW16 turned out very special for me because I was participating as an artist not only a spectator. You can read about my cherished exhibition together with the Hatara Project artists from Finland/Germany in my previous post Hatara Project, Time Perception VOL.2 #28.


I started writing the introduction of this article about MJ16 and when I was close to completion I of course came across Ezra Satok-Wolmans article Identity Crisis: An Essay about the Current State of Art Jewellery and the Future of it. I was confused about how similar his preface was to the text I had put together particularly the references. Although he did a lot of criticizing he made some good points in his essay.

Jewellery is “allotropic” like carbon, and can exist as different things, just as carbon can be diamond, graphite, or coal.

Ezra Satok-Wolman

I find it very well said that jewelry is “allotropic” because it has just so many directions and it’s performance is so varied. That was one of the ideas I agreed on with Satok-Wolman. He ended his essay claiming that Art Jewellery (he used capital letters) is far from dead, but it has become detached from its soul. This dead or not dead issue kept turning up in several texts. This is why I choose such a title for this post.
I recently  read the often mentioned article by André Gali (Editor of Norwegian Crafts magazine) – “After the End of Contemporary Jewellery” (2014). Due to the website renewal the article is temporary unavailable but as André Gali himself informed me the article will appear there hopefully very soon. In his essay Gali reflects on a discussion between ‘content providers’ – critics, writers and editors within the contemporary field of jewelry – that took place in Munich during Schmuck 2014. He also reflects on “The golden standard of Schmuckashau” (lecture in 2013, published in 2014) by Liesbeth den Besten (art historian, teacher, contemporary jewellery collector, freelance writer) and the designers and artist’s Ted Notens Manifesto in Current Obsession online magazine (published in hi’s book in 2006). By the way Ted Notens Manifesto started with the words: “Contemporary jewellery is dead.”
Ezra Satok-Wolman criticized Liesbeth den Besten of spending more time talking about specific exhibitions than the actual problem – what has “gone wrong” – as she puts it. For me it didn’t feel necessary for den Besten to talk about the problem without context so she gave the exhibition as an example. The criticism in detail she gave about Die Ausstellung (“The Exhibition”) – Otto Künzli’s overview of 45 years of work illustrated her idea well enough. She was disappointed of contemporary jewelry not being explained to average viewers. This is where the “allotropic” nature of jewelry burst out. There are exhibitions where additional explanation about the jewelry pieces is not necessary. But for some like the work of Otto Künzli context and emotional content comes visible when displayed along the stories, the processes, and the artistic photographic research. Here I agree with Liesbeth den Besten.The objects in the showcases must appear as puzzling as UFOs to those visitors who are not acquainted with the work of Otto Künzli, not to mention with contemporary jewelry in general. Liesbeth den Besten
Before these more or less recent essays I heatedly read some of Bruce Metcalf’s essays like “Contemporary Craft” (1999); “Crafts: Second Class Citizens?” (1980) and “Replacing the Myth of Modernism” (1993). It seems amazing how the issues he was talking about 20 and 30 years ago are still fascinating if no longer in sight. He referred to Arthur Danto’s thesis “The End of Art” [1] and André Gali used the same reference in his article. Theory put forth by Arthur Danto deals with the most relevant aesthetic and philosophical issues of art. Danto’s thesis refers to the beginning of the modern era of art in which art no longer sticks to the constraints of imitation theory but serves a new purpose. It became apparent that there were no stylistic or philosophical constraints for art anymore [2]. André Gali finds contemporary jewellery sharing fate with modern era of art that Arthur Danto was talking about in his thesis. Bruce Metcalf on the contrary states that craft and art are not the same so craft theory and art theory cannot be the same. Meaning the ideas from Danto’s thesis could not be attributable to jewelry.

The way I see it contemporary jewelry has evolved from craft and has established itself as art without doubt. The world of author made jewelry started off as craft transforming in to art/craft then to jewelry art and finally contemporary jewelry. As Ezra Satok-Wolmans puts it – Contemporary Jewellery is the new jewellery of the time.  It seems as contemporary jewelry would be living a small parallel life next to it’s big brother the fine art’s. Both sharing similar trouble with theoretical background and internal struggle meeting definitions and terminology in all times. As foolish as Ted Noten’s Manifesto might sound maybe the jewelry field cannot live without carrying such self-evident and pompous self-proclamation along.
As Marina Elenskaya (the founder and editor of Current Obsession magazine) puts it in her thesis -jewelry wants to be priced as art, and not as craft. It means that the final product is judged upon its conceptual value and innovative thinking, rather than its material value and its quality. This is what craftsman are most afraid of because they don’t feel strong enough of the conceptual value of their work. And they are afraid that the material value and quality of their work might not be appreciated. I think this was the concern of Bruce Metcalf when he wrote about how craft must not be viewed as art. But the most important point is that contemporary jewelry is not necessarily poor quality. I agree with Ezra Satok-Wolmans when he advises to forget about “virtual success” and focus on making jewelry that will sustain our careers and our field. But I find Satok-Wolmans exaggerating when he suggests to forget about exhibition and, photographs. Without exhibitions the field is hard to capture and I believe that good photographs are contemporary jewelry allies to be used for its own benefit. We also have to keep in mind how digital technologies are so image based. I will finish my introduction with a quote by André Gali. I find lyrical undertones in it. For me it reveals the nature of contemporary jewelry – everyone builds his own dialogue with the piece.

 a dialogue can take place between the jewellery pieces and individuals with completely different previous experiences and knowledge.

André Gali

23/02/2016 Day 1
(my birthday)

Here you will find photos and my notes about the exhibitions and symposium I visited in MJW16.

Akademie Galerie – Emi Fukuda and Naama Bergman
Akademie Galerie – Emi Fukuda and Naama Bergman
Die Ohrring Boutique – Einat Leader and Shachar Cohen
Die Ohrring Boutique – Einat Leader and Shachar Cohen

I visited two galleries on the first day. Akademie Galerie hosted Emi Fukuda and Naama Bergman. In Die Ohrring Boutique I found the work of  Einat Leader and Shachar Cohen. Both had a nice display, the large windows are welcoming.
In general the more I see contemporary jewelry so to call it, the more everything appears the same and it does not make sense to run everywhere and see everything. My second visit to MJW taught me not to rush things up. I had less time to visit galleries because I partly monitored my exhibition in Galerie Vernon. The following days I chose my destinations according to event specifics preferring discussions, symposium like events and places recommended by friends.

24/02/2016 Day 2

I spent the day in the gallery building our exhibition Hatara Project, Time Perception VOL.2 

Christine Jalio placing our MJW16 poster
At the opening in the evening. Thank you all who visited!
Annea Lounatvuori at her jewelry pieces from the collection China Town
Yiumsiri Vantanapindu and Annea Lounatvuori
From the opening of Time Perception vol.2
From the opening of Time Perception vol.2

25/02/2016 Day 3

On the second day of MJW Art Jewelry ForumCurrent Obsession and Norwegian Crafts magazine gathered in Villa Stuck for “The Meet”. It was a symposium of three short parts. The first part was a discussion on how do curators select works for exhibitions, and how do museums decide to acquire them. The speakers included Susan Cummins (contemporary art jewelry collector), David Bielander (artist), Liesbeth den Besten, and Petra Hölscher (Curator at the Neue Sammlung). Benjamin Lignel (artist, writer, curator) presented several contemporary jewelry art pieces giving the price and the panel of collectors had to comment on whether they would or would not buy these exemplars and why.

It was really interesting to hear about the most valued qualities and what attracts interest in contemporary jewelry piece for a collector. For example why would they actually pay (or not pay) 1600 € for a pile of tooth-straighteners by Lisa Walker, who was in the room by the way.
Sofia Bjorkman (artist, gallery owner) and morning coffee at “The Meet”
Meeting at “The Meet”
Jewelry spotted at “The Meet”
The first jewelry art work proposed by Benjamin Lignel was La Jolie (1970) by Man Ray. This was the only piece that was not on the site due to the excessively high price (136 000 €). Lignel introduced with the history of the piece shortly ending with a humorous fact of the stone being glued to the gold surface. Self evidently the high price is explained with the artist’s reputation.
Petra Hölscher as the museum representative commented that is quite difficult to convince taxpayers of the need for particularly expensive jewelry at the national museums.
Liesbeth den Besten attributed the expression – minor works of art for major artists – to this piece. How ever she explained that the personal acquaintance with the artist is important for her in order to appreciate the idea. If there is a strong idea and if it relates to the artist as she knows him, she pays for the idea.
David Bielander didn’t like the piece.
David Bielander at “The Meet”
The second two pieces were by Sophie Hanagarth – Trap (800 €, unlimited edition, not numbered) and Lisa Walker – brooch (1600 €, purchased, glued parts, 5 exemplars made as far, maybe will produce more).

David Bielander already has both pieces. He likes them because the artists are personally known to him. Also because he would like to tackle with the idea of the works himself. He explained how they are familiar with Sophie for a long time and how he studied together with Lisa and got to observe her artistic growth. He also added that he did not pay for the pieces, he exchanged them as artists often do.
Liesbeth den Besten liked both of the pieces but you can’t buy it all. She would like to buy Sophies piece. She first saw the piece in an exhibition during Schmuck. Women preferred the piece more compering to men. Everyone liked the crafts, but for her it is not the most important aspect. If the piece is great and it has a story craftsmanship might not be as important.

Susan Cummins installed she would buy them both if she were a dentist. Of course she would pay attention to the biographies of the artists. It may take a year for her to get used to the piece and feel like buying it. Talking about the price she usually finds the contemporary jewelry pieces too low priced.

Lisa Walker (New Zealand) at “The Meet”
“I position my work around the history, future, and boundaries of jewellery. I make pieces for the future.” – says Lisa Walker.
The following piece was For the farmer and the market garden by Hilda De Decker (ongoing project started in 1999, everyone loved the shocking rings rooted in the tomatoes, 500-1000 €, had been asked to change the preservation liquid).
Petra Hölscher is explaining about the risks museum has to take purchasing art. To gain support from the founding craft is preferred because conceptual art is difficult to purchase. Photographs of the work in case if it is explosive is not an option. The emotions you gain only by viewing the piece in real life are not to be captured with a camera. There is way more inside than a photo can carry.
Further expanded a broad discussion on art preservation.
When a jewelry piece reaches a museum all information on where it comes from, what is the story of it and how it can last longer is collected.
Susan Cummins shared her experience with gathering archives for a museum. All the collection gets delicately dated, artists get interviewed. There is a special team dealing with it. Contemporary jewelry collectors do it with pleasure. They know the story about the piece. It is the responsibility of the collector. In the case of the artist’s death all the information has to be saved. When removing the wearability of a jewelry piece the artist brakes into the world of fine art.
Sophie Bjorkman asked why must a piece necessarily be long lasting? To what Petra Hölscher questioned back why do we have museums at all?  To show work 100 years and more ahead.
A question from the audience arises about the intention of the artist. Was it his intention to make the piece last a 100 years?
Petra gives an example of Christo wrapping bridges meant to last for a week. A tomato has around two weeks. Does the museum have time to change a tomato every week, she asks.
A possible solution given by Eva Burton from the audience was to arrange temporary exhibitions instead of including the piece in the permanent exposition. Petra agrees to this.
One man from the audience objects to this claiming that museums have a “tomato budget”, that causes laughter in the room. He explains now museums have to reflect a certain period of time and by avoiding pieces difficult to preserve the certain period is not displayed correctly. Benjamin Lignel has to cut the discussion due to the lack of time.
Dr. phil. Petra Hölscher with Hilde De Decker’s For the farmer and the market garden projec
on the table in front
at “The Meet”

Benjamin Lignel introduces the audience to the work of Suska Mackert  (Atlas in Gallery Spektrum, 100 €) and the video Certainly Red (2012) by Laurem Kalman (DVD, one exemplar is sold so far, 365 €). The video shows a close up with lips. Lipstick is being applied, beginning as a gesture of the beautiful turning into brutality at the end. These two works are dealing with boundary pushing.

Liesbeth den Besten begins with questioning if these works even rank within the framework of jewelry.  She feels jewelry field presence in Suskas work but she does not feel it in the work by Lauren Kalman.

Susan Cummins boldly reveals that she does not understand any of Suska Mackerts works. Is the work being observed in the context of the world of jewelry or the world of art? Is there even a border as such?

How much the artist influences the field could determine to which areas he or she belongs to. Suska and Laurem have influenced the field of jewelry and have helped to define boundaries.

As a colleague David Bielander likes that the artist does what he or she thinks.

Liesbeth den Besten has one mark – we have to open our mind and Suska is doing this. Jewelry is a special kind of art, these works help as to announce it louder.

The last two pieces talked about – Jing He – Potential pins no.3. (360 €; Liesbeth den Besten wearing the piece) and brooch by Timothy Veske-McMahon (725 €)

Benjamin Lignel poses the question what makes the work of jewelry students attractive?

Liesbeth den Besten admits she sometimes follows student creations and notices whether the particular will grow and remain strong.

Is there a role for the teacher of the student in determining the value of the work?

Liesbeth den Besten – No, not obligatory. There has to be something in the piece itself.

Question from the audience arises how to set a proper price for students jewelry piece?
Benjamin Lignel answers that this should be asked to the educational institution of the person posing the question. (This sounded like a harsh answer to a non professional question.)

Susan Cummins explains there is no right answer. One must look around and see what others are doing.


Liesbeth den Besten advises not to choose too high prices at the beginning. It is nice when someone buys your work and you can get some feedback and improve your work.

Marine Dominiczak and Edu Tarin at “The Meet”
Eva Burton (jewelry artist) at “The Meet”
Liesbeth den Besten and Jing He wearing He’s brooches at “The Meet”

The second part was an open discussion with main questions given to André Gali from Norwegian Crafts, Benjamin Lignel from Art Jewelry Forum, and Kellie Riggs from Current Obsession (she does write for Art Jewelry Forum as well) about their vision of reporting on contemporary practice as it appears different in each of the three platforms appearing as online magazines and not only.

About the beginning…

Kellie from CO – The first idea came from Marina Elenskaya starting by giving the voice the maker. They focused on interviews with the artists because this provides information from it’s origin. Interviews are quotable for students and researchers as well.

André from NC – Norwegian Crafts was a magazine in the beginning. Writing about all crafts and also jewelry. Now they do also exhibitions, residency programs, seminars etc.

Benjamin from AJF – Started by visiting collectors in USA. Systematically organizing the info as news letters that grew into a website. From USA it has moved as an international website.

Three different ways of how to report.

André from NC – Is there a Nordic identity? – the proposed issue in the beginning. They write essays not exhibition reviews.

Kellie from CO – Marina usually selects a theme like archetype that was the first one. Archetype was about the bead and contemporary remakes of it. Then it was Youth, Fake and now the Supernatural. The ideas come from personal interest – we know when we see it. We work with pairing jewelers and photographers to build a qualitative image based editorial panel. Together with all that random texts, interviews etc. are added. The communication happens through a secret Facebook page – a closed group.

Benjamin from AJF – We also have a group of people who discuss the ideas about what to publish. Every year we set goals – like to increase the geographical periphery. Now we included Estonia, Spain, Asia.. We need critical writing in good English. The idea is to report critically to the field accountable to the readers not artists. Donations support the platform that gives freedom to the writers. Being critical is hard. We are fighting for accepting critic healthy.

Kellie from CO – We try to be most opened to the artist, serving the artist like we have in mind. Placing jewelry so people outside the room understand what is happening. Bringing jewelry back to its purpose. Trying to make it sexy, it is a young field, trying to make a platform for the young people to find it cool to were contemporary jewelry.

André from NC – In my article After the End of Contemporary Jewellery I talk about the field coming from outside the field. Using my different background as an advantage I look inside the jewelry world. I study the field in MJW and by reading.

Benjamin from AJF – The difference in our platforms is the target. AJF is for the collectors and writers. Accountable by curators. It is a challenge to find writers who write critically.

Kellie from CO – We try to write for everybody but mostly students and graduates. Happy to have contemporary audience. Our main focus is to provide cool imagery.

Benjamin from AJF – We are trying to be sexy too (laughing). AJF use images in different style, they don’t have the money to send photographers to artists. But some writers do the photos them selves, that’s a good thing.

André from NC – We are more traditional using the format of magazine that has established already. CO is exploring new stuff. NC get the images from the artist, and pay more attention to the text.

Where the funding comes from and how it influences the content?

Benjamin – AJF have donors. We ask straight forward – can we review your exhibition critically still receiving money from you? We continue visiting new collectors also in Estonia for example.

André from NC – Funding comes from the Norway government.

Kellie from CO – Magazine is self funding. Funding comes from advertisements and selling. The first magazine came from self savings. Not influenced by anyone because of being active. The founding structure asks for certain events during the year. Mostly good but not planned. We organized the symposium Zimmerhof. We made the map for the MJW. Experience Ooga Booga project had sponsors. We keep inviting artists and having “expert meetings”. There are no boundaries for the platform. It’s a social club if you will.

Benjamin from AJF – The next publication is planned on 2018. We pass out the different jewelry there is. Not all are accountable to the same issue. Artists all have different ideas for the work.

Liesbeth den Besten brings a question to CO – Do you know who the readers are?

Kellie from CO – No (laughing). Answers to another question about the amount of exemplars – the circulation is 50 000 exemplars.

Comment from the audience – an increase of the interviews has happened recently.

Benjamin from AJF – Interviews are the most read. Researchers and students who what to quote find them useful. Direct material from the artist has a high value.

Kellie from CO – We are putting jewelry next to other art forms.

Benjamin from AJF – The triangle exists – someone is giving the message, some one in receiving it and some one is making the note.

Latest publications.

And finally André Gali presented his latest publication (the inspired Crafting Exhibitions, co-published with Arnoldsche),  Benjamin Lignel introduced with “On and Off”, AJF’s latest collection of essays and Kellie Riggs presented Current Obsession’s magazine, #4 Supernatural, as well as #3 Paper Issue + Map, made exclusively for MJW.
Kellie Riggs (artist, freelance writer) presenting the Current Obsession magazine #4 Supernatural at the “Meet”
Kellie Riggs presenting the Current Obsession magazine #4 Supernatural Issue “It’s all about super, sexy, cool!”
at the “Meet”
Crafting Exhibitions going from hand to hand at ‘The Meet”

[1] Arthur C. Danto (1984). ’The End of Art’. In The Death of Art. New York: Haven Publishers. 05/03/2016