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Looking back at China’s first International Art Jewelry exhibition

Article  /  DebatesReview
Published: 11.03.2014
Looking back at China’s first International Art Jewelry exhibition.
Author:
Ezra Satok-Wolman
Edited by:
Ezra Satok-Wolman
Edited at:
Ontario
World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China.
World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
Last year in late September, a major jewelry event took place in Beijing that to date has received little attention. I had the pleasure of traveling to China for the 2013 Beijing International Jewelry Art Biennale that took place during Beijing Design Week (BJDW). Modern jewelry in general is quite new in China, and art jewelry is essentially just getting off the ground.
2013 Beijing International Jewelry Art Biennale - Exhibition and Conference
September 23rd to October 12th, 2013
World Art Museum, China Millennium Monument (CMM), Beijing, China 2013 Beijing Design Week
Hosted by:
(BIFT) Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, (CAFA) China Academy of Fine Art,
(CAA) China Academy of Art
By Ezra Satok-Wolman


Last year in late September, a major jewelry event took place in Beijing that to date has received little attention. I had the pleasure of traveling to China for the 2013 Beijing International Jewelry Art Biennale that took place during Beijing Design Week (BJDW). In addition to participating in the jewelry exhibition, I joined a group of 12 international artists and the owner of a major art jewelry gallery who were in attendance to participate in a conference focussed on the current state of jewelry arts, specifically within China.

Modern jewelry in general is quite new in China, and art jewelry is essentially just getting off the ground. Having travelled to Hong Kong in 2009 for an exhibition, I was aware of the policy shift by the Chinese government that year to begin to allow citizens to purchase and invest in gold and silver. Until that point, precious metals were a state asset, and therefore a jewelry market (in the Western sense) was virtually non existent. Silk, jade, and copper are examples of some of the materials used in traditional Chinese jewelry historically. In 2009 that all began to change, and a “modern” jewelry market started to develop in the country.

The exhibition location initially selected was Art Area D-798, but the organizers quickly realized the magnitude of the exhibition and decided to move the event to the China Millennium Monument (CMM). This was ideal for the exhibition, as the CMM was home base for Design Week and the principal location for many of the week’s events, including the opening ceremony for Design Week itself. The CMM is an enormous building, designed in the likeness of a sun dial, serving as home to numerous museums and galleries. The galleries are located throughout the multi-level rotunda, and include the World Art Museum and the recently opened Museum of Digital Arts. Located on the top level of the museum, the exhibition was the crown jewel of the CMM contextually and geographically. On opening night of Design Week the attendees funneled through the exhibition in order to arrive at the cocktail reception, resulting in approximately 2000 guests and invitees meandering through the jewelry show on that evening alone. The exhibition featured the work of 329 artists, of which 60 were invited, from 45 countries, and displayed well over 1000 pieces of jewelry. The event is officially the largest exhibition to date of contemporary jewellery.

I have compiled a document that lists all of the selected artists that can be downloaded or viewed using this
link. You can also read the official Exhibition Foreword from Guo Qiang, Dean of the Department of Product Design, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology here.

The Biennale was comprised of two components, the exhibition and a conference, both of which focussed on the theme "Identity". The first scheduled event was the opening ceremony, and with the event organizers, media, government officials, and a large group of students present, the ceremony kicked off with speeches given by faculty members from BIFT (Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology), and ended with final words from Laurent-Max De Cock, who officially opened the exhibition in English.

The group spent the next two hours meandering through the massive exhibition space, and there was an obvious charge of excitement that could be felt from everyone in attendance. The massive rotunda was split into East and West wings, dividing the work of the artists from those hemispheres respectively. A diverse range of working styles was on display and as seen in many other industries and various branches of art and craft, the Chinese proved to be highly skilled technicians. As I previously mentioned, "modern" jewelry is relatively new in China, and therefore school departments are also relatively new. "Identity" proved an appropriate theme, as much of the work was obviously influenced by "Western" jewelry and historical jewelry trends. This should come as no surprise, as globalization is impacting art everywhere.

China wasn't the only country showcasing work from the "East" however. Taiwan was well represented and has also been a big producer of talented jewelry artists. I had the pleasure of purchasing a piece from one of my favorite new artists, Heng Lee (pictured below), while visiting the Ubi Gallery in Beijing. Heng Lee’s work is but one example of the brilliance coming out of Taiwan today. My overall impression was quite positive, however my criticism of the exhibition could be easily addressed by the organizers in the next edition (2015). There was simply too much work on display, which made it difficult to really take in everything there. Even after visiting the exhibition on two separate occasions I still was not sure I had seen everything.

There is no doubt that China will be a major player in all of the branches of jewelry making and design, but they still lack the organizations, communities, and infrastructure needed to catch up with the "West", and perhaps decades before they catch up with the “European establishment”. Beyond the work itself, I was truly impressed with the professors and instructors I met and spent time with there. Many of these individuals left China to study abroad well before the jewelry trend kicked off, and have dedicated themselves now to educating the jewelry artists and makers of the future.

The Conference component within the Biennale was comprised of a lecture series, a formal “Round Table” discussion, and several scheduled cultural excursions. In the afternoon following the exhibition opening, the conference began with presentations from nine of the artists in the exhibition, and Marie-Jose Van den Hout, owner of Galerie Marzee. Following along with the theme of “Identity”, many of the presentations focussed on the artists themselves and the emotions and experiences they convey through their work. Ruudt Peters spoke about several of his projects over the years, and his personal interest in “alchemy and transformation”. Ruudt also talked about his interest in Chinese culture and the work he produced during and after his 3 month trip to China the previous year. Antje Brauer described how living in the rural setting of northern Germany has influenced the direction and esthetic of her work. Annelies Planteijdt talked about her connection to the forms she uses in her shape-shifting necklaces, and her growth as a metal artist over the decades. Ramon Puig Cuyàs spoke about his desire as a child to be an explorer and an astronomer, but lacked the skills in math and science to excel in those subjects in school, and how he has achieved a sense of those experiences through the fantastical pieces he has created over the years. Marie-Jose Van den Hout gave an interesting lecture about the history and activities of Galerie Marzee in The Netherlands and abroad. Marie, who runs the largest contemporary jewelry gallery in the world, was the only representative from the business arm of the jewelry scene present at the conference. For her, the access to academic jewellery departments in China means a new pond to fish from, and a well stocked pond at that.

It's no secret that the China Academy of Fine Art and the China Academy of Art have been churning out talent in this field for some time. Until now, these artists have primarily been discovered while working in graduate programs abroad. Direct access to the Chinese programs that are sending these artists abroad is sure to mean many more Chinese artists in galleries in the West over the coming years.

Laurent-Max De Cock, spoke about his involvement in the upbringing of these jewellery departments over the past decade. Hailing from Belgium, and a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, Max has been traveling to China to teach for more than a decade, and has acted as a liaison for the HRD (Antwerp’s Diamond High Council) in China. He has been a consultant for BIFT, aiding in the recent expansion of the Metal Arts Department and construction of a brand new facility to house the jewellery studios. I was shocked at how sophisticated these new labs are, and spent an afternoon there with Max and a group of his students. Jamie Bennet gave the final presentation of the day and spoke in detail about the evolution of his work with enamel, and gave some background on his journey as a jewellery artist and educator.

The next morning our activities began with the “Round Table” discussion at BIFT. Seated around large boardroom tables, we assembled to discuss the development of “Jewelry Culture” in China, and how to further elevate the educational model in China’s institutions. One of the big questions that came from the Dean of BIFT was, “How can China ensure the success of more jewelry artists”?. This may seem like a simple question, but the reality is, China now has a huge number of graduates each year coming out of jewelry programs who want to be “Jewelry Artists”, rather than “jewelers”. The country has now invested tremendously in large jewelry programs at Art and Design Institutions, as has been the trend in the West over the last two decades. Many of these students earn Masters degrees and PhDs, and want assurances that there will be a place for them in the jewelry world.

But even with all of this commitment to the Chinese Jewelry Arts, the reality is, its not that simple. Ubi, Beijing’s first art jewelry gallery opened just last year. Ubi is the brainchild of Machtelt Schelling, a Dutch woman who had the vision to open one of the first art jewelry galleries in China. But with a surplus of talent and only one or two venues in the entire country, China has been exporting their artists work to an already saturated market in the West, as they have done previously in various industries.

I raised the point that the success of art jewelry in the West has been largely due to a highly functional infrastructure, founded on societies and organizations, social networks and communities, schools and Universities, exhibitions, fairs, and both public and private collections in museums and art galleries. China has very little of that currently and needs to begin to build a national platform for their artists and designers. The platform should consist of grant programs, design competitions, and events to educate the public about jewelry, in addition to the aforementioned elements. There was no defined response to the Dean’s question, but what was established was that China needed to look within their own borders for answers, and establish an identity independent of their blossoming presence within the scenes in Europe and North America. Jamie Bennett had an interesting point to make with respect to how and why artists become successful and summed it up to three defining factors; talent, determination, and luck. I have to agree with Jamie whole heartedly. Talent is no longer enough on its own to ensure success as an artist. At the end of the day it really does come down to a balance of all three, and those who can put that package together are almost sure to succeed. Having a degree sure doesn’t hurt either these days.

The European representatives were quick to point out that Western influence is overly common in China’s “new jewelry”, and in order to achieve a connection with the public, elements of Chinese identity need to be tapped by artists looking to build an audience domestically. Max summed it up best by saying “creativity must come from the inside out, not the outside in”. Jewelry artists in China currently have little choice but to look to Klimt02, Crafthaus, Art Jewelry Forum, and Schmuck for insight into what is happening in the jewelry world. This brings me back to the previous point I put forth, which was that without a “platform”, a community of their own, and a public audience that understands contemporary jewelry, China’s art jewelry scene will only exist abroad. The round table discussion wasn’t entirely about praising the West however. Ruudt commented on fundamental problems within Europe’s educational system, and cited a general decline in quality within the field of jewelry. I would have to agree with this too, and mentioned that I had taken note of this while studying in Europe roughly a decade ago. Technique was being diluted in some school programs, and was slowly being removed from curriculums as the alternative materials trend took off.

Jewellery schools were adapting to become “contemporary jewelry schools”, and emphasis was shifted from developing technical skills to developing concepts. Having trained as a goldsmith who over the years has spent a great deal of time developing techniques, I spoke about my own experiences and having a “tool box” of techniques. How having a foundation of techniques to draw from has helped me accomplish goals and overcome challenges in my own work. For example, if an artist has an idea or vision for a piece, but doesn’t have the ability to produce it, that idea may never be realized. The reality is, when an artist has the ability to draw from a range of skills, the ideas and work they produce will be their best work. Jewelry programs in China on the other hand have students spend two years learning foundation in a classroom before ever entering a studio or laboratory. By the time they actually start to produce physical pieces of jewelry in their third year, they know what they want to make and the mechanics of how to make it. As current trends become old and new ones emerge, China is surely poised to be a major player in all aspects of jewelry, domestically and abroad. Galleries in the West are already representing a huge number of artists from Asia, and there aren’t new galleries popping up in the current economy. Over the coming decade artists and manufacturers will have to vie for their place in the market, whether in boutiques and galleries, department stores, or online, and a resurgence of quality is inevitable. You just won’t survive otherwise.
China Millennium Monument (CMM), Beijing, China.
China Millennium Monument (CMM), Beijing, China

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World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China.
World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China

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World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China.
World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China

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Artists convene for the exhibition opening, Beijing, China.
Artists convene for the exhibition opening, Beijing, China

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World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China.
World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China

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Sophie Symes (UK) and Zoe Robertson (UK).
Sophie Symes (UK) and Zoe Robertson (UK)

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Chen Ying-Hsiu (Taiwan).
Chen Ying-Hsiu (Taiwan)

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Ruudt Peters (The Netherlands).
Ruudt Peters (The Netherlands)

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Heng Lee (Taiwan).
Heng Lee (Taiwan)

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Ruudt Peters, Lecture, Beijing, China.
Ruudt Peters, Lecture, Beijing, China

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Felieke van der Leest (Norway).
Felieke van der Leest (Norway)

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Lucie Houdkova (Czech Republic).
Lucie Houdkova (Czech Republic)

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Ezra Satok-Wolman (Canada).
Ezra Satok-Wolman (Canada)

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World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China.
World Art Museum (CMM), Beijing, China

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Jie Sun (The Netherlands/China).
Jie Sun (The Netherlands/China)

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“Round Table” Conference, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT).
“Round Table” Conference, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT)

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“Round Table” Conference, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT).
“Round Table” Conference, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT)

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Artists visit the Forbidden City, Beijing China (Left to Right; Jamie Bennett, Annellies Planteijdt, Marie-José van den Hout, Ezra Satok-Wolman, Ruudt Peters, Yu-Jin Cho, Chen Kuojen, Antje Brauer.
Artists visit the Forbidden City, Beijing China (Left to Right; Jamie Bennett, Annellies Planteijdt, Marie-José van den Hout, Ezra Satok-Wolman, Ruudt Peters, Yu-Jin Cho, Chen Kuojen, Antje Brauer

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Ruudt Peters, Beijing, China.
Ruudt Peters, Beijing, China

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Exhibition venue map, China Millennium Monument, Beijing, China.
Exhibition venue map, China Millennium Monument, Beijing, China

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