Karl & Heidi Bollmann - Collecting jewellery and the Pursuit of joyful communication

Interview  /  History   Debates   Collecting
Published: 27.04.2015
Karl & Heidi Bollmann - Collecting jewellery and the Pursuit of joyful communication.
Sanna Svedestedt
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Karl and Heidi Bollmann first discovered contemporary jewellery in the 60’s after being introduced to the field through an encounter with jeweller Peter Skubic. After 45 years of following the artistic developments in the field the couple decided that is was time to present their jewellery collection to the public in an act to support and spread the joy and fascination for contemporary jewellery.

During spring 2015 parts the extensive Bollmann collection was exhibited for the first time at MAK, the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art in Vienna as well as presented in the book Jewellery 1970–2015 Bollmann Collection. Fritz Maierhofer – Retrospective published by Arnoldsche.

This text is a transcript of a casual conversation with Karl & Heidi Bollmann at the Messe Hall during Schmuck 2015.
Do you find it important that jewellery can be worn?
Heidi Bollmann: Well, the wearability is more important for me than it is for Karl.
Karl Bollmann: There are several pieces in our collection that are very difficult to wear. We decided not to show these pieces in the exhibition at MAK just because we wanted the visitors to feel comfortable. They should be able to identify themselves with the jewellery and start buying as well, so to say...
How do you as collectors think about the idea of value in contemporary jewellery?
Karl Bollmann: Well, value is a word that has several meanings, I can produce at least fifteen meanings for value. If you are an investor you have a different idea of value.
For example, you have mentioned that there is no secondary market for contemporary jewellery. That speaks of one kind of notion of value.  What would you define as your own sense of value?
Karl Bollmann: As a matter of fact, I am following the idea of Bruno Martinazzi – that jewellery should be prezioso, because if jewellery was not valuable, then it would not be in line with your personality. You always want to show what you feel is valuable and - value would not mean any commercial value in that - but none the less you would like to see what you think is valuable when you choose your jewellery. If you give jewellery to somebody else you always give a part of yourself, thinking that what you do is a valuable action.

So for me the value of a jewel is the matter of two people feeling togetherness through the piece as well as that the culture of communication is being raised.
But what about a secondary market for contemporary jeweller, do you think that is something that will come in the future?
Karl Bollmann: Perhaps in twenty or thirty years there will be one, of course. For collectors like us you could argue that this is a perfect world, living on your own decisions and you need not look at what the market says. If I don’t choose the right artist then my judgement has been wrong. As a collector you would like to make something that will last. So you ask yourself “Does this piece have the quality to last?”
Heidi Bollmann: In our exhibition you can see that the old pieces still work, they have power and quality. If after five or ten or twenty years you feel that it is wrong, then the piece never had that quality.
Has that ever happened?
Heidi Bollmann: Well, no. There are some rare pieces that nowadays I would not have bought, but I never regret that I did. We have had a lot of years of learning. In the beginning we could only afford minor pieces and bought one piece per year, which was a good learning period. After that it went up slowly.
What kind of reactions to the jewellery you wear do you get from your friends and social network?
Heidi Bollmann: They are interested but always at a distance.
How is that after so many years of seeing you wearing it?
Karl Bollmann: The idea of the exhibition was that people would start to realize that there is something for them in jewellery, which they can use for themselves. Of course jewellery necessitates that you know your own personality. And it can be strange to be confronted with your own personality.
Heidi Bollmann: I have several friends who left the show saying “now I understand what you did during the years”. Because I only meet them a few times a year, always wearing a different piece and that is not enough to interpret what we do.
In the exhibition and in the book you included portraits of individuals wearing jewellery. Can you tell us about the decision to illustrate the book and the exhibition this way?
Karl Bollmann: We were lucky, we wanted to have photos in the book of people wearing jewellery. At MAK there is a photographer, Nathan Murrell, who is very good at portraits. He had never photographed jewellery before but he immediately got the idea, so there is dignity in both the jewel and in the person. This goes very well together. We wanted to show real people with jewellery that is not accessorial and not accidental.
How did you decided who would wear what specific piece?

Karl Bollmann: The models, who were not models, chose jewellery for themselves from the hundred pieces that we had selected for the book.
Did you find that a piece changed depending on who was wearing it? How much impact does the wearer have over a piece of jewellery? Perhaps it is a strange question.
Karl Bollmann: No, it is not a strange question...we are just wondering because this is not a common experience, usually you would not lend your jewellery to someone else. But we found out that the jewellery is strong enough to be compatible with another personality. There is no change in the meaning of the jewellery, but it is like that - a spectator is invited to see and use his own fantasy, so it is probably different for the viewer. He might see a different personality with that special piece, but that is normal with jewellery.

From the book Jewellery 1970–2015 Bollmann Collection. Fritz Maierhofer – Retrospective
In the exhibition parts of your collection from these 45 years was on show. Did you see the collection in a new light when it was presented in the museum?
Heidi Bollmann: It was very interesting to see the whole development. The first pieces from the 60’s are very calm and made from simple materials, back then everything was geometric, with no stones and nothing precious, up until to now where I say there is a new baroque, a new renaissance.
When do you see the biggest change over this period of time?
Heidi Bollmann: The biggest change was when they started. In the first part of the exhibition we show pieces from the late 60’s from all over the world - American, Japanese, German, Italian and Austrian. They started all over the world with this same idea, just get rid of this common jewellery... nothing against the old jewellery, but they had to change, a new time had come. Then of course, nobody can work the same way for 45 years. They changed their ideas and you can see that very clearly in the exhibition, even for us it was very interesting to see it so clearly.
The first piece in your collection was made by Peter Skubic.  What happened after you had acquired that piece?
Karl Bollmann: Peter Skubic really broadened the field for us and introduced us to other artists. In 1980 he curated an exhibition in Vienna, Jewellery International, which was essential. He had invited artists from all over the world and showed them in an open way. The tendency then was to bring jewellery to the field of art.
Do you also collect other objects?
Karl Bollmann: We started collecting fine art, we had an interest for that and I knew what fine art would produce.  I had visited museums since I was five with my father. 
How do you look at jewellery and fine art then?
Karl Bollmann: The difference between the general fine arts and jewellery would be that you have to be a jewellery artist to produce jewellery, because it needs a certain special mentality. You have to be open, that your work would not stay in one place but it would be the insinuation forward for somebody else. It should really prepare for more free and liberal communication. This makes it different. In the first instance the jeweller is working for himself like any other artist. In the second instance he knows that somebody will wear the work and show it to other people. This must be in his mind and he has to love that situation. And he has to know that people really have joy with it, because the communication should be a joyful one. This situation is in his inmost mind, his mentality. If this mentality is not there, then nothing comes out of it. I have seen many architects who try to make jewellery and nothing comes out of it. Fine art is all right but it is meant to live in a different world.
If you know art but not jewellery, if you are art based so to say, you always have to mind that the old philosophers - and new philosophers - spoke badly about jewellery. I think that even now, in contemporary art, they are afraid of jewellery. They think art should be completely free. And they do not realize that the jewellery makers that make contemporary jewellery really are free. Usually people think what they do is getting on with orders to make somebody comfortable, and that is flattery for them. So to know that jewellery artists would act completely freely, that doesn’t enter their mind. Next to that, there is always the problem of size. If you just consider jewellery as a part of sculpture, then jewellery is lost, because it is the tiny brother, just a wayward child. People see no greatness in it. You have to have something else in jewellery which makes it a necessity and makes it work on the level with the substance, so to say. In earlier times, up to the 60’s, jewellery was considered completely accidental, like a handbag. But afterwards it got substance, and this substance, make other artists that are not jewellery artists, envious even. So this is troublesome, even now… but it is getting better.
Still, you are confronted with the idea that jewellery is morally bad. In the northern countries to be an intellectual you would have to wear black and perhaps a tiny little silver ring... If you do otherwise you would be a sinner. If you look up the philosophers of 4000 years there is almost no favourable comment about jewellery. I have looked for it and found perhaps three or four parts in total, but in general they are opposed to jewellery. And now, this has to be overcome to make communication more joyful!

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