Beyond the showcase

Article  /  Debates   Curating   CriticalThinking
Published: 16.02.2006
Beyond the showcase.
Liesbeth den Besten
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Lecture during the workshop SITUATION, a 6-day workshop for international jewellery artists at Konstepidemin, Gothenburg Sweden, August 30 to September 4, 2004.
This lecture is dealing with new ways of presentation of jewellery. Since the sixties photography, installations and the use of special locations became important instruments for jewellery artists in their struggle for recognition, independence and understanding.
I have restricted my lecture to the Dutch context, but I am aware that in other countries, for instance Germany, interesting things in this field are taking place. It was a matter of time, Since I was invited in a pretty late stadium, I had to confine my research to my own country. I follow the jewellery scene in Holland since about twenty years, professionally as an art historian and art critic and privately as a passionate lover of contemporary jewellery.

In June this year, students of the Akademie der bildenden Künste Munich, from the class of Otto Künzli, had a remarkable way of showing their jewellery. The glasshouse of Gallery Marzee, in Nijmegen in the eastern part of The Netherlands, was their stage. The students invited the audience one by one to come in as VIP’s. Each VIP received a piece of jewellery and a small ‘business card’ with information considering the piece: artist, year, title, material and prize. People walked around and talked to strangers about ‘their’ piece of jewellery.
This show reminded me of what has probably been the first jewellery happening in the world, at least in The Netherlands.

It was on January 31, in the year 1970, that Gijs Bakker (1942) and Emmy van Leersum (1930-1984) showed their so-called Clothing Suggestions on models, all friends of the couple. The Clothing Suggestions were tight fitting elastic white suits with special elements at knees, elbows, hips, breasts or shoulders, hardened with polyester in the white fabric.
The models walked through the famous Art & Project Gallery in Amsterdam. This was the show, which lasted for a couple of hours. These visionary suits expressed the view of Bakker and Van Leersum on modern jewellery. Jewellery should follow or intervene with the natural shape of the body. Nothing less. Nothing more.
They created their own, individual environment, just for a few hours. This show was a clear statement, and the impact was immense. Newspapers and magazines wrote about it, a ballet using the suits was composed by a famous Dutch choreographer, and Bakker and Van Leersum had an exhibition at the Electrum Gallery in London.

Photography as an instrument
In the starting period of the ‘new jewellery’, in the sixties, jewellery makers discovered the use of photography as an appropriate instrument to create their own context for jewellery, and to make a statement.
In the years 1967 - 1970, the photography of the new jewellery had a clear function. The often big pieces were showed on models – clean, beautiful young girls, looking upside, in the future. The effect was positive, full of energy, future-focused and confident. The pictures clearly expressed that this jewellery was meant for the young and modern generation.

In the eighties there was a different spirit. Best found in the way Marion Herbst (1944-1995) presented her jewellery. The images were less pretentious, humorous, and in fact more humane. Marion Herbst decided to furnish her last overview exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1993) with blue painted garden gnomes. The gnomes showed her jewellery.

In the nineties, Ruudt Peters (1950) introduced an arty way of photographing his jewellery. He asked art photographers to make their impressions of his jewellery.
Some ten years later Dinie Besems (1966) published a few glossy magazines with colour pictures of her conceptual jewellery. She used herself as a model.
Every period will find appropriate ways of presenting jewellery in photography.

Jewellery Galleries
The Netherlands have four galleries devoted to jewellery, Ra and Louise Smit in Amsterdam, Marzee in Nijmegen and Lous Martin in Delft, and a handful of galleries that also show jewellery every now and then.
For most people from abroad this must seem like luxury, still it is not enough. Jewellery artists think that galleries have an audience that is too restricted and too old, and they try to find new ways of presenting and selling their work.
Since five years students and teachers of the Rietveld Academy organize a Fair in the old stock exchange building in Amsterdam for students, ex-students, teachers and ex-teachers of the academy. The fair takes place during the weekend of Pentecost each year. Participating artists have to develop one product which is reproducible – therefore prizes are somewhat cheaper than gallery- prizes. Although many disciplines are represented at the fair, jewellery is in the majority. Thousands of people visit the fair each year.

The Installation
In the beginning of the nineties jewellery makers began making installations to show their work, in the gallery or in a specific surrounding. This idea was strongly propagated by Ruudt Peters, than a teacher at the Rietveld Academy. He is strongly opposed to showing jewellery in showcases, because he thinks it is important that people can touch and feel the pieces. Ruudt Peters has designed many installations, for every exhibition a new one.

In 1992 he organized his first installation, of the Passio jewellery, in the basement of the old gallery Marzee in Nijmegen. Each pendant was hanging in a secluded tent made of a transparent violet gauze. I remember that it was a thrilling experience to open the curtains and to reach at the pendants – it was so unusual.

In the same year he organized a show for his 1990 Interno brooches at Gallery Spektrum in Munich. The brooches were worn by male models on the lapel of their black suits. The models were standing in a row, against the wall, and the audience had to walk past and get near the models to get a better look at the brooches. This must have been a thrilling experience to.

In 1995 he showed his Ouroboros brooches, in the new building of Gallery Marzee. The pieces were pinned to the old wooden ceiling. People had to climb old-fashioned, wobbling ladders to get a closer view of the jewellery. This went too far. It was too dangerous, and nobody dared to climb the ladders. Eventually a new solution had to be find in order to make the exhibition more accessible.

In 1998 he designed an installation for his Lapis collection at Gallery Spektrum in Munich. The white laboratory coats served as a background, and were there to emphasize the artificial, alchemistic nature of the stones.
The stones of the Lapis jewellery were made by grinding minerals to powder, than mixing it with a substance and casting it in moulds of different stones.

After studying jewellery from 1970-1974, Ruudt Peters worked as a sculptor for quite a long time. Around 1990 he started making jewellery again. Because he was also a sculptor the showcase proved too limited for him, and therefore he designed installations to provide the proper context for his jewellery. As a jewellery maker he also started making sculptures again – these sculptures, which are all related to architectural projects – concentrate on the same themes as his jewellery.

An impressive example is the wall sculpture that he did in 1997 for De Vinkhoek, a complex of renovated apartments in the centre of Amsterdam. They are diverted from the Lapis jewellery, and based on the same alchemistic principle. The rocks – one rock under each window, three rows of twenty windows in complete - , made of different metals (iron, brass, lead, tin, silver and gold, in this case gilded brass) are cast in moulds of a large amethyst.

In 1992 Dinie Besems made a video of an Ice Necklace for her graduation show at the jewellery department of the Rietveld Academy. It showed a necklace composed of ice cubes slowly melting and making new patterns in the fabric of the dress below. The video illustrated Dinie Besems conceptual way of thinking about jewellery.
She is still making conceptual jewellery – some pieces are wearable, others not. Most of her pieces are about wearing, or the impossibility of wearing, and constitute new relationships between jewellery and space.
Dinie Besems hates being dependent on galleries. She wants to be self-sufficient and organizes her own exhibitions at special places. Therefore she attracted a team of like-minded people, who help her to realize her ideas (all for free).

In 1997 she organized a one day show in her own house. Here she showed a meters long chain, which was hanging along the walls of her apartment, as the exact floor plan (1:1) of her entire house. Special hooks and eyelets indicated doors, windows and angles. Referring to the snail that wears his own house, the chain was called ‘Never naked again’.

In 2002 she organized an exhibition of new work in the Old Church in Amsterdam 2002. In this beautiful 14th century building her work was exhibited in glass cubes on the age-old tiles of the floor. Most of her exhibited silver objects and jewellery was influenced by the idea of the cube.

In 2003 she organized an One Hour Show Jewellery for Men, in Museum Van Loon in Amsterdam 2003. Because the museum, an old 17th century mansion, doesn’t wanted to become an exhibition space for modern art and design, she had to rent the building for one hour – this was all she could afford. She made beautiful pictures of the male models wearing her new sturdy pieces, in the sumptuous surroundings with marble floors and flowered and gilded wallpaper.

Her last exhibition was in the Old Stock Exchange Building in Amsterdam (c. 1900), a building by the famous Dutch architect H.P.Berlage, and took place in the summer of this year, 2004. Her jewellery was displayed in beautiful showcases, designed by Besems, consisting of a glass pedestal covered by the same structure in a bigger size.
Dinie Besems has the capacity to find unique surroundings to show her work. Her work is interesting because of this capacity to organize things, convince people, raise funds, and to attract the audience and press.

Ted Noten (1956) is another independent character in the Dutch jewellery scene. He likes to invite people to join his work.
I will describe a few of his ‘happenings’. The Chew your own Brooch Contest in Museum Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam attracted hundreds of schoolchildren. The idea started in 1998. People could buy a piece of special wrapped chewing gum, with a return box. You had to chew a form, put it in the box, than send it to the artist. He would cast the form in silver, which was gilded afterwards, complete with a pin and send it back to the sender.
It was a jewellery project in which hundreds of people have joined till now.

Silver Dinner is another of his communicative projects. When he was invited by Gallery Louise Smit to expose his work in the stand of the gallery at the KunstRAI art fair in Amsterdam, he decided to do something special. He installed a table with a bar of silver. A part of the bar was sawn into pieces and he had made brooches out of these by fitting them with a pin. The silver brooches, all different sized and formed, were sold by weight. With a balance to determine the price. It was an interesting kind of an insight project, making the public aware of the mechanisms of buying and selling.

Above this it showed once again how Ted Noten is capable of making customized jewellery.
This year he had an exhibition in a gallery. He furnished the gallery with an old safe (500 kilos), a table, chair and a lamp. The safe was filled with plastic boxes with jewellery. The content of the boxes was projected on the wall with the aid of a beamer. If a visitor would like to see the content of one of the boxes, he/she had to ring the bell on top of the safe. The gallery-owner would appear to show the pieces in the box. The person could sit at the table and have a quiet look.

Inspired by a room
Some artists make installations which are inspired by a room. The glass house of Gallery Marzee inspires some artists to do this, among them the students of Munich (see the beginning of my lecture), Ruudt Peters and the Belgium artist Hilde De Decker (1965). De Decker made a few installations in this glass room.

In 1998 she made her first installation Silver Lustre. One wall was covered meters high with a tapestry composed of tourist souvenir tapestries from Belgium. This baroque curtain acted as a background for a table piled with porcelain objects covered with silver lustre – a very old, nearly forgotten process.

A year later she transformed the room in a real glasshouse, filled with large pots and plants. The plants, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants were grown by the artist, and provided with silver rings, designed by her.
While the fruits grew in the rings, they were harvested and preserved with acid in bottles. The audience could buy a pot with fruit and ring – not meant for consumption.

The silver leaf-ed installation, which Hilde De Decker made in 2000, was impressive and beautiful. The effort was tremendous. Imagine choosing out a tree in the wood and moving it to the gallery. She exhibited silver leafs among the brown fallen leafs of the oaktree.
Although De Deckers’ installations are beautiful and impressive, they confront us with the question what all this has to do with jewellery? Where are the boarders of jewellery and do we have to be concerned about these boarders? Or is jewellery just a blur? A wearable thing that will appear every now and than in a wide ocean of energy, ideas, concepts and objects?

The work of the Brazilian artist Celio Braga (1965) is also far away from jewellery – although his work has an intimacy and a language that is related to that of jewellery. Braga studied at the jewellery department at the Rietveld Academy. Sometimes he transforms his studio in the old centre in Amsterdam into an art space where he or an invited artist can show his or her work.

In 2003 he made an installation White Shirts. It consisted of a series of 28 objects made from white shirts donated by gay male friends. The shirts were folded and patiently hand sewn and embroidered until they became massive and compact sculptures or objects (the artist himself is confused on whether he should call them sculptures or objects), hanging from the ceiling.

In 2002 he made a series of pieces which were small, and could be held in the hand. The Stedelijk Museum bought these pieces for their jewellery collection.
Sometimes he uses the medium of jewellery to make an installation. Like the 365 meter long thread with red glass beads, carefully displayed on the floor along the walls of his studio, in 2004.

Objects and Rituals
For Manon van Kouswijk (1967) jewels seems to be part of a constructed world with objects that have a ritual character. Her work and the special displays with oversized furniture, are conceptual and playful. Techniques, materials, objects all are mixed: ceramic plates, ceramic spoons, knifes, tablecloths, chains and pearl strings combined with textile collars, even mirrors. Gésine Hackenberg (1972) is also interested in the ritual character of daily objects, like spoons which are important instruments for feeding. In her work ceramic or silver spoons are transformed into rings, pendants and other jewellery. She made an installation that consisted of a large table with plates hollowed out in the wood, and silver spoons that had porcelain grips (like the ears of a cup).

Rietveld Academy 2004
This year the graduation show of the jewellery department at the Rietveld Academy showed good, but confusing items.
Mina Wu, a young student from Taiwan, was attracted by the Rietveld Academy because of the free and open atmosphere at the school. She attended the jewellery department but didn’t make any jewellery for her graduation. In fact she created a mini-world, a small room, with the aid of pencil, textile and thread. The wallpaper was decorated with elegant flower patterns drawn with a pencil, and other objects like a pair of socks and a dishcloth were all embroidered with silk and needle. Amadine Meunier from France, graduated on an installation with small objects – not wearable, though fit to hold in your hand. And Anna Rikinen, from Finland showed her body-related jewellery for nose and eyes, on a dressing table made from cardboard. This presentation enforced the fragile and intimate character of her work.
Constanze Schreiber (Germany), and the Dutch Francis Willemstijn, confined themselves to jewellery – attractive pieces, meant and suitable to wear.

More Space
A lot of artists who studied at the only jewellery department in the Netherlands, are now making objects that have a confusing character. Some of them make objects that are not made with the intention to wear them at all, Objects which are not made for someone else, not made for a person, for a body, for movement, for confrontation with other people. Other objects can be both autonomous or wearable, and at the same time they are nothing at all. Meaningless because of their dualistic nature. Cripples, not able to walk nor talk. Impossible to determine. At the same time the installation has transformed from a way to display your jewellery into an object itself. Therefore, in my opinion, the situation is under pressure. Artists are also struggling with the freedom that caused them to take boundaries and left them alone in confusion.

Philippine de Haan (1966) emigrated to the United States, a few years ago. She made objects that were a kind of weird. Like a textile branch with five brooches. A beautiful piece, but also confusing because of its measurements and the five pins. In the United States she has now created a website,, that offers room for ‘homeless jewels’. It is a kind of a shelter for undetermined objects, for ideas and photo’s - a concept that jewellery makers from all over the world can join.
It is the ultimate new space and context that jewellery makers has now conquered. A situation which will perhaps offer new possibilities and new ideas
Ruudt Peters. Installation: Passio, 1992. Ruudt Peters
Installation: Passio, 1992
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Dinie Besems. Installation: Untitled, 2002. Dinie Besems
Installation: Untitled, 2002
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Ted Noten. Installation: Chew your own brooch, 1998. Ted Noten
Installation: Chew your own brooch, 1998
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Hilde De Decker. Installation: for the farmer and the market gardener, 1999. Hilde De Decker
Installation: for the farmer and the market gardener, 1999
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Celio Braga. Installation: White Shirts, 2003. Celio Braga
Installation: White Shirts, 2003
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