- Makiko Akiyama
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Otto Künzli: The Exhibition travelled from Munich to Lausanne to reach its final destination, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, one of Japan’s most prestigious museums. The Tokyo installment features two distinctive spaces, a traditional Art Deco residence and a newly built white cube, to appeal to fans of jewelry as well as the public at large. This two-part interview takes a closer look at the retrospective of an invaluable artist from the perspective of both the artist and curator. Part one begins with curator Akio Seki.
How did you develop an interest in jewelry?
Around 20 years ago I got into pre-18th century historic jewelry. It shows the desire of man - desire drawn from the terrible realization of the limits of our own mortality. It had exactly what I wanted at a time I was dissatisfied with mainstream art.
You’ve organized quite a few jewelry exhibitions.
I organized four exhibits of historic jewelry at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum over a five-year period that included items from ancient Mediterranean cultures, the Renaissance, Art Deco design and Japan.
From 2005 I worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) for eight years. In 2007 together with Yuko Hasegawa I produced ‘Space For Your Future,’ a group exhibit of 34 international artists, including my inductee, Mikiko Minewaki. Then in 2010 I planned the four-person exhibit, ‘New Language of Dutch Art & Design,’ where I introduced Ted Noten.
During my time at MOT we received many interesting proposals for contemporary jewelry projects, but as the exhibit spaces are massive, measuring between 1200㎡ and 1800㎡, none were the right fit.
How did that lead to the current Otto Künzli exhibit?
Otto Künzli visited the MOT, back in 2010 I think it was, to discuss plans for this very exhibit. He’s a unique artist in the field of contemporary jewelry. His works and methods of expression have the power to excite even those with no knowledge of the medium. I knew his items would work well even in a large space so I thought to bring him to a more popular venue, that being the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. It’s the reason I’m here now. But as a connoisseur of contemporary art, perhaps Otto would rather have preferred to be displayed alongside the great contemporary masters.
Why did you select Otto out of all the contemporary jewelry artists?
Three main reasons.
There’s his importance as an artist, for starters. He’s one of the most important artists in contemporary jewelry today. Next is the language of his works. His works speak to those even without a particular interest in contemporary jewelry.
And the final reason: For the past 40 years he’s consistently sought out new avenues of expression that engage with personal themes and contemporary issues.
Many great artists latch onto one idea to bring to fruition. But sometimes this leads to stale exhibits. Otto is the exact opposite type of artist. I believe it’s this defiant stance that keeps his exhibits compelling.
What sort of exhibit did you plan with Otto?
I gave him my requests and suggestions. Some he accepted, some he didn’t.
We had various requests and proposals for Otto. We asked for him to recreate the ‘Screw Brooches’ installation from 1979. The subtle sensibility of the installation conveys the implied relationship between the body and jewelry. We also asked for him to produce both new works inspired by Japan and relational art. Then we proposed a slideshow of the comments he received from those who donated wedding rings to ‘Chain.’ Our other proposal was to include a video with the ‘π’ exhibit. I enlisted Daisuke Yamashiro, a younger artist, to create the video.
We honored Otto's final plan but felt it required more context for those unfamiliar with contemporary jewelry. That’s why the museum and I made supplementary materials, including the handout and video interview with Otto. These two additions were well received by Japanese visitors and were possible only because of Otto’s assistance.
Do you think this exhibit will raise awareness of contemporary jewelry in Japan? Why do you feel that way?
For the exhibit, exerting a creative influence is more important than raising awareness. That’s the dynamism of an exhibit. I’m sure that over the next five years Tokyo will see many works that build upon Otto’s methodology.
To raise awareness of contemporary jewelry in Japan we need popular artists based in Japan. I didn’t experience the 80’s contemporary jewelry scene Otto emerged from, but I do remember when Mikiko Minewaki, Felieke van der Leest, Katja Prins and others debuted with timely works. It felt to me like a breath of fresh air. I can’t wait to see what forms of expression will emerge from Tokyo after these artists.
Translation: David Kracker
Akio Seki. Chief Curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. Curated ‘Otto Künzli: The Exhibition’. Studied jewelry from ancient history to the 20th century and discussed the zeitgeist depicted in jewelry with exhibitions that include ‘The Art of Rings’ (2000), ‘Jewellery from Renaissance to Art Deco 1540-1940’ (2003) and ‘One Hundred Years of Jewellery in Japan: 1850-1950’ (2005). Explored the boundary between contemporary jewelry, modern art and design through MOT exhibitions ‘Space For Your Future’ (co-curator) and ‘New Language of Dutch Art & Design’
>> Japanese Version Text
About the author
Makiko Akiyama. Writer and translator. Born in 1979 in Osaka, Japan. In 2013 launched a newsletter for Japanese readers featuring translated articles about art jewelry. Contributing writer for klimt02, CURRENT OBSESSION, Art Jewelry Forum, and Norwegian Crafts. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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