Gold is the shit of gods?. An interview to Prof. Otto Künzli

Interview  /  BehindTheScenes   Artists   MarcusTeipel
Published: 03.01.2007
Otto Künzli Otto Künzli
klimt02, Marcus Teipel
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it is important to also have irony and a good shot of humour, but depth, with contrast and with contradiction, please, contradiction as in fascination, which is born from things one fears that repulse one and yet at the same time unavoidably pull you into their spell.
Gold is the shit of gods?
Cotzticteocuitlatl correctly translated means Yellow faeces of Gods and is indeed the Aztec expression for Gold. I find this a beautiful picture for the wonderment of human kind in connection with ever shining yellow nuggets. These sparkling little nuggets, which are swimming in streams and rivers, had to come from somewhere, after all. Why shouldn’t they have fallen from heaven? People like saying: “Shit happens”, but that it might come from above is totally new to us.

What is your regard to South American literature?
I read on a regular basis, but without any preference of any geographical kind. Many years ago I read Landscape in clear light, by Carlos Fuentes, and discovered –in my opinion- the most beautiful and intensive piece of text, in which jewellery played a central role. The old widow Teodula receives a visit from her son in her old hut. In a long conversation she allows her life story to pass by. Lovingly and without bitterness she talks of Birth, Love and Death, and in so doing always talks a bout her jewellery, which had been inextricably linked with her all her life.
Of course today we also wish that jewellery and life are one.

A Swiss living in Germany?
It wasn’t the case in those days that my heart would have beaten so fast for Germany to make go there because of it. I was allowed to work for Hermann Jünger for a few months in 1972. It was a real adventure for me to live in his house with his wife Jo and their six children. It was also the time when Jünger was appointed as Professor at the Akademie der Bildendene Künste (Academy of Educative Arts) in Munich and I had an unexpected chance to add a second, totally artistic course of studies to my apprenticeship as Goldsmith in Zurich.
After many years a social network comes into being, one has friends, maintains fruitful relationships to galleries, museums and institutions, and this way it can happen that one stays. On the other hand jewellery has taken me around the world as well. I travel around so much that there is no danger that Munich will get me down.

Where does your educational approach differ from Jünger’s?
One would have to question Hermann Jünger himself about his educational approach, I could quote him, but these would only be fragments. I for my part try to avoid something like an educational approach in dogmatic teaching. The academy is a free space. Students should develop relatively freely, and grow free from curriculum and free from programme. They should not emulate idols, they shall find out what is inside themselves. In this I try to support them with my assistant Karen Pontoppidan and our workshop leader Matthias Mönnich.

Could one say that with you the Academy internationalized, globalized itself? I don’t think much of the so called globalisation, with that something completely different is meant. My class has indeed become more international. This trend had already started slowly under Hermann Jünger. Through my intensive and regular contacts with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and naturally also many European countries, the amount of foreign students has in the meantime increased to approximately 70%. This will not change in the future either. Many of my former students are already moving on an international level, exhibit worldwide and give lectures and workshops everywhere.

Is it a rumour that you prohibit your students to work in the goldsmith filed during their apprenticeship at the Academy?
That is not only a rumour it is also nonsense. Or is there something the expression ‘to work in the goldsmith field’ that I don’t understand?

Well for example: To work for a goldsmith in a ‘traditional’ way.
The tendency to work, sometimes more sometimes less, with precious stones and precious metals are frequencies. Here in Munich the decision to work with these material and traditional techniques is exclusively the students’. This applies to experimental projects as well as to Mini Collections, which are produced by students from time to time. Naturally we concentrate on the essentials, on jewellery as an artistic form of expression. But we are not above occupying ourselves with editions, packaging and distribution, as has lately been done for the Museum Shop of the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Here you can’t only see the Danner Rotund with its first class jewellery collection. Under the Esperanto word juveloj (jewellery) I oversee the museum’s jewellery area. We started small and locally, to test this, to see how our concept proves itself and develops. For this I asked my students to develop small editions. This is a bout the experience to look at this very special world of museum shop, which differs very much from the world of galleries. Already we show other jewellers’ works in this shop i.e. Marc Monzó from Barcelona. No matter whether it is about a unique piece or a more commercially orientated product, one always has to find the appropriate material, the right technique to bring out the original idea with persuasive harmony.

Is it a brand name, something like a status quo to have studies with you?
As I said earlier, I avoid pulling people about, the point is to support and further whatever is invested in the different personalities. One could say: “Push from behind, don’t pull from the front.” They have to decide for themselves which direction they take. I therefore hope that one cannot recognise my ex-students by my trade mark, but more by having found their own way and that they work as differently as possible.

You are one of the most renowned Jewellery Artist of our time; lectures, prizes, publications; can one still understand your jewellery as jewellery? Or are you more interested in the concept? Do you want your jewellery to be worn?
Naturally, but the question of wear ability is not in the foreground. I am lucky that have made things on the one hand like The Red Point, 1980, the drawing pin broche. I couldn’t have sold 50,000 of them, if they hadn’t been worn. This miniature broche only makes sense when it is worn. On the other hand there are works which result from a question, something that moves me and doesn’t let go anymore. In case I find a way for it, I can work on this for months or even years, and perhaps a piece comes out of it in the end, and possibly I may not experience for the rest of my life, that the right person finds this piece. If it should end up in a museum though, it doesn’t mean by a long shot that I made for the museum. I am proud that my art applies means that my art is an applied one and I totally stand by it.

What is of more interest to you, the thought process or that your pieces are being worn?
I don’t want to change the world, of course I have thoughts, know what is important to me try to be ‘exact’ in my doing. One piece may be self explanatory, another one encoded, ambiguous and complex. It leaves some cold, others are moved to tears; for a third they are ‘think pieces’ and the last ones simply enjoy them.

Is there a symbiosis of symbolism and irony? A crossing of boundaries, room, tension and contradiction?
Well, it’s always agreeable when it tickles. Life has many sad sides, which we all know too well. For me it is important to also have irony and a good shot of humour, but depth, with contrast and with contradiction, please, contradiction as in fascination, which is born from things one fears that repulse one and yet at the same time unavoidably pull you into their spell.

I am not about a ‘künzli monologue, I am a communicative human being and communication has something to do with give and take. My excursions into space have been rare; I only made these when it was absolutely necessary, when it happened out of the subject I was working on. The development of attributes has always been my central concern.

Where are the boundaries between Art and Goldsmith?
I shall formulate this differently. I believe that jewellery is a form of educative art, like painting, sculpture etc. I don’t put these things next to each other or under each other anymore. Seen like this the question suddenly becomes: “Where are the boundaries between art and painting?”, and of course no one asks this question. It is of course obvious that the different media with all their relations differ, too. For me as well as for my students the question of feasibility, taboos and boundaries is always subject matter. I believe one must try to find these boundaries oneself, because they’re not where one is told that they are; one has to direct this oneself. Often these boundaries are diffuse and vague. If one believes to have surpassed these boundaries one is proud, looks back and realizes that there was no boundary, that it has moved itself in the meantime etc. One day one awakens and asks oneself suddenly, where the centre of this damned piece of jewellery is and the whole game starts anew.

In which direction has jewellery moved in the past decades?
With hindsight this is always easy to anchor and simple. Quite a bit has been written about it. Firstly there are the protagonists, mostly isolated and misunderstood. Then there are the freeloaders, a trend starts, “a movement” and the next ism follows suit. The protagonists are normally not recognisable for dust by this time. What they do next, though, I will not betray here.

You, of course, are at the River of Things (sic). This means, the river changes in this current of jewellery?
Sure, but the world is subject to a constant flux of change. I am too young to be a ‘class of sixty-eight’. Then in the eighties…. we had heated discussions with the students and to kindle a discussion with today’s students is almost impossible. It is so different there is no more political engagement.

Is there a market for contemporary jewellery?
There are people who love, wear, buy, or give this jewellery as a present.

Up to which point does your work identify itself with that of Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons and Bruce Naumann?
The first and the third I hold in high esteem. None of these three have anything to do with my work.

Has jewellery become “künzli”?
Not at all.

About the author

Marcus Teipel
Krefeld, Germany 1966. He studied jewelry at the Escola Massana in Barcelona, graduating in 1996. In 1996, together with other jewelers, he formed the collective AL Ras dedicated to commercial jewelry. Since 2000, he has been working on his own. He has participated in group and individual exhibitions in different cities.