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Critical Self-Appraisal is an Absolute Must in all Areas of our Society. About Critique. Interview with Christianne Weber-Stöber

Published: 26.08.2020
Christianne Weber-Stöber, Photo by INOVA Awards. Christianne Weber-Stöber, Photo by INOVA Awards.
Author:
Klimt02
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2020
.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
From the series of interviews about critique, we received many answers and ideas. But more important: more questions came up. We go into the second round of interviews and talk with more people from the contemporary jewellery scene to answer questions about censorship, morality and the value of criticism.

In this fourteenth interview of our new series about critique, we talk with Dr. Christianne Weber-Stöber, art historian and jewellery scientist,since 1989 general manager of the Association for Goldsmiths’ Art in Hanau
For 30 years you have been the managing director of the Gesellschaft für Goldschmiedekunst e.V., which is based in the German Goldsmiths’ House in Hanau. There you are responsible for the representative collection of jewelry and utensils with a focus on exhibits from the years 1965 to 2018. Such a collection is carefully built up on the basis of various criteria and is constantly being expanded, so you are constantly reflecting and communicating. Please give us an insight into your approach on how to deal with criticism, being critical and critiqued. What is your personal understanding of these three terms?
It should be noted that the collecting of jewelry and utensils didn’t begin at the German Goldsmiths’ House until the late 1960s. To this day, the main acquisitions have been made through purchases from the numerous exhibitions, which are supplemented by individual donations by artists or collectors, as well as from artists’ estates. We try to illustrate as broad a spectrum as possible with regard to jewelry trends of the last 60 years, not only through works by established artists but also by young protagonists. However, our financial resources do not allow us to portray all the facets, internationality included. Sometimes, we’re forced to omit thoroughly important artists, even though it would be important to have their works represented in the collection.

Our exhibitions are commented on by the regional press, specialist press, and occasionally radio/television. The critics aren’t always experts in artist/author jewelry, though, meaning that critical scrutiny isn’t always a given. The exhibitions are critically commentated by our visitors in our visitors’ book or during personal conversations. These comments are sometimes very useful for finding out whether you’re reaching your audience with your exhibition message. As we all know, interest in artist/author jewelry hasn’t really taken hold among the wider public. Over the centuries jewelry has always been defined using the terms valuable and decorative; an entirely new statement in jewelry took root post-1945, but it hasn’t really been heard in society yet. By means of targeted events such as public tours, jewelry discussions, or artist’s talks we’re trying to foster greater understanding and encourage critical examination.


 
  • Only a very few trained art critics have access to jewelry. During the 30 years I’ve been dealing predominantly with the contemporary jewelry and utensil scene, I’ve come across too few critical voices that dealt with the phenomenon of jewelry and its significance and publicized it to a wide audience. When did the culture section of a cross-regional daily newspaper ever discuss a jewelry exhibition?



There are many different ideas on how the contemporary jewelry world should handle critique and criticism. Some people think there is not enough, some people think there is no place for “loud critique” any more. Others wonder, who can be in the position of being a critic. What are your thoughts on this, where do you see opportunities and where are dead ends?
There’s no room at all given to the study of jewelry history, for example within the scope of art history or culture history studies. Jewelry history is not really established as a scientific discipline. Only a very few trained art critics have access to jewelry. During the 30 years I’ve been dealing predominantly with the contemporary jewelry and utensil scene, I’ve come across too few critical voices that dealt with the phenomenon of jewelry and its significance and publicized it to a wide audience. When did the culture section of a cross-regional daily newspaper ever discuss a jewelry exhibition? Generally speaking, only press releases are reproduced in the regional section, and that applies to the specialist press, too. Very, very rarely, jewelry makes it into the Frankfurter Allgemeine or Süddeutsche Zeitung magazine. There’s also a fear that culture is going to take up less and less space in regional and cross-regional newspapers. There’s hardly any print media dedicated to avant-garde jewelry in Germany; very often, you’re forced to “buy” an exhibition review or a reference to an exhibition with an ad. It’s also impossible to find a truly critical voice there.
 
 
Apart from your daily professional practice at the Goldsmiths’ House, you give lectures and you have been teaching. Critical thinking is highly valued but difficult to teach effectively. What do you think, how is it best taught?
For 14 years I’ve been teaching in Idar-Oberstein, where it’s struck me that students who come from abroad sometimes discuss the jewelry scene in Germany more critically and candidly. They’ve got the necessary distance and aren’t afraid to criticize even renowned artists. The gallery business in Germany, which as you know plays a considerable role in jewelry education alongside the exhibitions, is also questioned during discussions. What role should a gallery play? What are the tasks of jewelry education? The jewelry scene in Germany comprises a number of jewelry-makers who manage their own gallery and sell jewelry made by colleagues—that’s inconceivable on the art scene.

Moral and normative ethics are questioned to be the basis of our theory of society. Which role do you think morality plays and is criticism necessary for the transformation of society? 
Critical self-appraisal is an absolute must in all areas of our society—that being said though, fair play is absent all too often. Lately, personal clashes between jewelry artists have been disseminated via social media. That’s no way to solve conflicts, in my view.


 
  • The jewelry scene is not the only place that occasionally lacks critical self–appraisal—its absence can also be felt in fashion, the movie industry, and so on. Of course, it’s much easier to use a piece of jewelry to churn out a critical testimony to a current topic; people often forget to take a critical look at their own standpoint 



As stated in our previous interviews, there is critique involved in the process of making, but it is not a critique of oneself as a maker. It lies in the act of transforming a material by envisioning an alternative. How do you think we can strengthen a form of criticism which supports the process of integrating jewelry into a bigger area, such as craft, art, environment (…), and what are the questions we should deal with?
The jewelry scene is not the only place that occasionally lacks critical self–appraisal—its absence can also be felt in fashion, the movie industry, and so on. Of course, it’s much easier to use a piece of jewelry to churn out a critical testimony to a current topic; people often forget to take a critical look at their own standpoint. I’ve also noticed that the issue of “copying” an artist is coming up more and more often—indeed, out-an-out attempts are being made at it. However, we should also consider that certain trends on the jewelry scene are influenced by current events, which are taken up to the same extent by various artists, independently of one another. Remember, we’re just talking about artist/author jewelry here—gemstone or mass-produced jewelry, which is worn most commonly of course, has rules of its own of course.

 
How do you think we can avoid the misunderstanding of criticism as a self-judgmental practice, and see it more as a fruitful, exploratory and descriptive thing?
We need to be more open, more tolerant, and allow other takes on jewelry to be equally valid. Naturally, the preciousness of the material stopped counting ago—we’re constantly on the lookout for innovative design using a new technique or an unfamiliar material. That being said, the question also presses of whether a provocative material or an appealing statement is sufficient by itself, no matter how it’s crafted. According to the motto: Anything can be jewelry? The debate surrounding the wearability of jewelry has been going on for decades. The most frequent comment by visitors to our exhibitions is: But you can’t wear that! You must always keep in mind that artist/author jewelry is only appreciated by a small circle of fans/buyers and not infrequently ends up as a collector’s item in a safe or display case, but isn’t worn in any big way. In order to perform a critical examination of jewelry, many more people would have to be introduced to it—a really tricky undertaking that would need to be commenced during training/at school.


Peter Deckers said critics are a link in the jewelry discourse chain, an important community connection, a voice that brings the audience into the exhibitions. Could you tell us more about how you share your critical thoughts, good or bad, and where you find a safe space to communicate them?
I’m always seeking to sustain a critical dialog with colleagues from other museums—critical thoughts are often shared very openly among jury members at jury meetings, too. All museum curators who have been dealing with avant-garde jewelry for many years and promoting it in a wide diversity of ways are aware of the permanent difficulty of reaching a bigger audience. The scene gets together at the annual “Schmuckschau” in Munich and at the numerous events in the city, but you rarely meet outsiders there.   
If you want to be able to understand an artist’s jewelry production in all its facets, it’s vital to visit the workshop, while a chat with the artist will also allow you to ask questions about materials, processes, and decisions.


What are the leading publications and critical thinkers driving debate about contemporary jewelry in your country? Please explain to us briefly what you appreciate about them.
Avant-garde jewelry is an excellent example of increasing globalization—many publications on international avant-garde jewelry have come out in the past 20 years, notably at Arnoldsche Art Publishers. A few countries have managed to compile an overview of the evolution of their jewelry and its specific characteristics.

In the Netherlands, Marjan Unger was an important voice in jewelry, and Lisbeth den Besten likewise consistently delivers things to think about. Ellen Maurer Zilioli also represents the jewelry scene with interesting contributions as a gallerist and exhibition curator. Schnuppe von Gwinner also strives to draw attention to jewelry in her blog.

For many years in Idar-Oberstein there was the multi-day symposium “Schmuckdenken”, which featured numerous speakers who revealed how they approached jewelry from various perspectives. In my view, jewelry needs more lateral thinkers, fewer insiders who repeatedly celebrate the same “inner circle”. In 1989 Fritz Falk, the former director of the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, organized ORNAMENTA I in Pforzheim with a team of curators—that was a radical departure in artist jewelry that sparked controversial debates. People were always saying there should be an ORNAMENTA II as well—a good idea, which can’t be realized just like that at the moment. Austrian gallerist Inge Asenbaum likewise tried to offer an extensive platform to avant-garde jewelry. In the 1990s she commissioned star architect Zaha Hadid to design an exhibition in Zurich for her jewelry collection, but unfortunately, everybody was talking about Zaha Hadid afterwards, the jewelry just became the sideshow.


Dealing with critical writing, there seems to be still a controversial aesthetic dynamic: Not only on academic platforms, but also in magazines and websites (so seemingly “general audience” venues) there seems to be a contradiction where academic writing is taken to be not only bothersome and difficult for contemporary audiences, but the accepted critical standard at the same time. Do you think this can be part of the problem? Where do you see opportunities for a change?
As I’ve already explained, artist jewelry lacks the broad basis that’s interested in it, wears it, buys, appreciates it. Of course, that’s also reflected in magazines and on websites. They need to serve enthusiasts and purchasers, at the end of the day. Only gem jewelry plays a role in lifestyle magazines, despite intense efforts we’ve got no platform there—unless we place an ad. Even online articles need to be paid for sometimes.
 

Where does censorship start for you?
Censorship’s about forbidding things. While we’re not there (yet), there are some cases where it might be needed if people can’t behave.
 

About the Interviewee

Dr. Christianne Weber-Stöber is an art historian and jewellery scientist, numerous publications to contemporary jewellery and hollow- and flatware design. Publications to jewellery, fashion, silverware, focal point 20th/21st century. Since 1989 general manager of the Association for Goldsmiths’ Art in Hanau, a non-profit association promoting gold- and silverware design on national and international rank. Priority has the promotion of young artists by competitions, exhibitions and publications. Since 2006 director of the German Goldsmiths’ House, whose exhibition emphasis is the contemporary jewellery and hollow- and flatware design.

About the author


Carolin Denter
 completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. 2015 she made an Internship at Klimt02 in Barcelona. In 2017 she graduated as Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at the University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she worked as Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement till the end of 2019. Since 2020 she is Marketing & Forum Content Manager at Klimt02. 
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