Baltic contemporary jewellery art scene

In this wonderful time when the exhibition Synergy. Contemporary Tendencies in Metal Art and Design[1] is about to open its doors to visitors I publish some of my thoughts on Baltic contemporary jewellery art scene. It was about time for an exhibition like this to come. I have high hopes for this exhibition and urge you to visit it. In Baltic Jewellery News (August 2017) No. 33[2] pages 78-80 you can read more about the exhibition.


In an interview by Susan Cummins for AJF in 2012 Agita Putane claimed: Latvian jewellery designers are highly professional artists[3]. There is no doubt about it. The interview was about Maris Sustins exhibition SPHERE in Putti Art Gallery, Riga, Latvia. The person interviewed was Putane – the gallery owner. Most likely she was more interested in giving an interview to AJF then Maris himself. This could have been an issue of language and of previous engagements or other circumstances but still the interview through a third person seemed strange. Putane had to quote Maris. This illustrates the mature Latvian jewellery artist attitude to publicity and self-promotion – through a third person. Not always there is such a person. I could name several Latvian world-class artists whom the world does not know about.  It is an everlasting story about artists and the ability to advertise oneself, to manage commissions, accountancy and have a life. Always balancing between the actual artist’s work and everything else related to self-provision and some kind of marketing one can no longer do without. Not to mention the artists who do not want to share their creativity. Existing in the Post-Soviet situation jewellery artists are somewhere in between the old times and the new. This “in between” situation refers to Latvians in comparison with neighbouring countries.

Manferd Bischoff “Soloman”/”Mind Attractor”, 1990/1991 Brooch with drawing and brooch by Kadri Malk “Manferd”, 2014/2015
Photo from the exhibition “A Tribute to Manfred Bischoff” in Galerie Handwerk 9 MAR –  8 APR 2017

Estonian jewellery artists have managed to create their own recognizable style. As Aaron Patrick Decker writes in the introduction of an interview with Kadri Mälk – she has given rise to a generation whose work is strong, individual, and definitely Estonian.[4] Regarding the Soviet Union Latvia shares a similar history with Estonia. “For years, her (Kadri Mälk) work was not widely known, because until the fall of the Soviet Union it was not shown in the West. Mälk (…) has clearly been a strong force, helping shape the work of Estonia’s contemporary jewellery community,” says Marion Fulk in an article for AJF about a visit to Estonia.[5] First of all Mälk is using the opportunity to introduce the West with her work. Second – it is thanks to her and other jewellers like her that Estonia has a contemporary jewellery community as such. “Tradition is a continuous renewal, never a dead pattern with which you can identify yourself” – Kadri explains in another interview for klimt02.[6] Estonian jewellery artists are in their continuous renewal and once you are already on the map, it’s easier to stay there. As Latvian jeweller Valdis Broze puts it: “Estonians, for example, are very focused on Scandinavia, jewellery has a strong Finland influence. We (Latvians) have something in the middle.”[7]Broze is not the only one to point this out.

Valdis Broze in his studio

There are more similarities between the contemporary jewellery art scene in Latvia and Estonia. Lithuanian artists might not be widely known through the West or the USA but Lithuanians are adherents of their national artists. As Juris Gagainis[8] explains in an interview in 2015: “My subjective opinion is that Lithuanians are way more patriotic (than Latvians). They also have a jewellery artist movement with traditions; they have a lot of people who rise and fall for it (…) Their society is already accustomed to willing to buy new artist jewellery and be proud of it and wear it.”[9] A sign of a dynamic jewellery community development is international shows, biennales and competitions. For example METALLOphone is a contemporary metal art biennial initiated in Vilnius in 2011. It has become international and the only of its kind event in Lithuania dedicated only to metal art.[10] Probably one of the best known jewellery related events in Lithuania is The International Baltic Jewellery Show Amber Trip.[11] The contemporaneity of the event is debatable but the growing number of participants indicates success. Amber Trip has encouraged several Latvian artists (Zane Vilka, Janis Brants, Rasma Puspure, Jelizaveta Suska etc.)[12] to execute their work in amber.







[7] Interview with Valdis Broze by author

[8] Professor at the Art Academy of Latvia, founder of the Department of Metal Design in 1961

[9] Interview with Juris Gagainis by author