Masters of the Crafts. Angela Böck on EXEMPLA in Munich

Published: 02.06.2022
Dr. Angela Böck Dr. Angela Böck
Carolin Denter
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Bettina Dittlmann. Brooch: Black Flower, 2018. Iron, fire scale, magnet.. Bettina Dittlmann
Brooch: Black Flower, 2018
Iron, fire scale, magnet.
© By the author. Read Copyright.

Since 1970 the EXEMPLA is the biggest special show at the International Trades fair in Munich happening every march. Located on almost 1000 square meters, about 20 items, are presented by craftsmen, makers, and artists, most of them demonstrating their work in live workshops. Just as SCHMUCK, MEISTER DER MODERNE or TALENTE, EXEMPLA is a special show in the “Handwerk and Design” pavilion during the “Internationale Handwerkmesse München. EXEMPLA has the aim to present exquisite craftsmanship on the highest level and proof that artisanal achievements are a crucial part of our everyday culture. Even more, crafts deserve to be considered an essential element of society.
The organizer of the annual show is the “Handwerkskammer für München und Oberbayern” with manager Dr. Angela Böck. Every Year, Wolfgang Lösche, head of all special exhibitions, and Dr. Angela Böck choose a theme for the exhibition: 2019s topic was Textile – fabric of the future.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022, there is less of a topic, but a look back at the show's most successful themes, interesting contributions, and outstanding personalities who over the past 50 years have helped shape and define this special show and contributed to its legendary reputation.
We have the pleasure to talk with Dr. Angela Böck, driving force behind EXEMPLA.

The International Trades Fair is not just a fair, in the pavilion Handwerk and Design it offers a great platform for artists and craftsmen to collaborate and network, especially through the special shows SCHMUCK, TALENTE, and EXEMPLA. What distinguishes EXEMPLA from the three other special shows of the Trades Fairs and Exhibitions of the Chamber of Trades for Munich and Upper Bavaria?
TALENTE and SCHMUCK are competitions; that is, potential participants, submit their work for selection. From the pool of entries, a jury (in the case of SCHMUCK, a single juror) selects the participants. Both international special shows present works by the selected artists, artisans, and in the case of TALENTE, also those of designers.
Unlike these shows, EXEMPLA addresses a certain defined theme every year. And rather than being a competition, participation in EXEMPLA is by invitation. Also, most contributions to this show are presented by active workshops. The approximately 20 invited artisans are assigned an area of 15-70 square meters. Then their stands are planned in collaboration with our architect, Lene Jünger. As a rule, each stand provides a selected presentation of pieces and a live workshop, where key production steps are demonstrated. Exhibitors are sought who are active in the area of the annual theme, but who are also willing to work on-site in a live workshop.

Thomas Löber-Buchmann, dish with sprats, 2018, stoneware, porcelain slip-glaze, transparent glazing, diameter 46cm, photo: Thomas Löber-Buchmann​

Where does the specific idea for the EXEMPLA come from?
As stated in a press release for the first EXEMPLA, the special show serves the purpose of presenting outstanding examples of craftsmanship that illustrate the creative significance of the trades and crafts, their expressive potentials and achievements, and the substantial and formal qualities of their products. This remains the central aim to this day, even though we might now describe it in more contemporary terms.
From the start, EXEMPLA and its organizers reacted to current themes and concerns. At first, the EXEMPLA format consisted of several smaller special shows. In 1970, these were "Masters of the Crafts," "Crafts in the Service of Research," and, of current relevance, "Crafts and Sports." That year, Munich had been selected to host the 1972 Olympics, and the whole city was alive with preparations. EXEMPLA was conceived as international from the beginning. This fact should be seen in the context of the postwar period. The Second World War had come to an end just 25 years before, and Germany felt an urgent need and desire to enter peaceful contacts with the world at large. The International Trades Fair was an excellent forum to this end.

Robert Race, automata, “Almost ready for Anything”, 2019, driftwood, recycling materials, 37 x 12 x 52 cm, photo: Robert Race

The themes of EXEMPLA are very different, how are they chosen?
Well, this is not an easy task! We always look for a topic of current relevance, that will interest the public, offer surprising aspects, and be represented by exciting workshops. The theme has to be accepted by the executives at the Chamber of Trades for Munich and Upper Bavaria and by the customer management at the Gesellschaft für Handwerksmessen (Association of Trades Fairs) and our political sponsors. Naturally, we always choose a topic that we find interesting and rewarding. So there are many decision-making levels involved. Also, the topic has to be suited to presentation in live workshops, and we have to find artists and artisans who are interested in demonstrating their work to the audience, and who have the requisite time to spend in Munich, a good week.

When we imagine this difficult selection process you mentioned above: How do you choose companies and artists for the event?
As soon as we have selected the topic, we begin to look for suitable participants. In fact, the names of possible candidates already come up during the selection process. These should be true specialists, people who are at the forefront of their field in the world, or at least in Europe. One important aspect is that they be personalities who enjoy participating, who have a special interest in this form of presentation in live workshops or are willing to take up the challenge. Not everybody feels comfortable working in front of a live audience and entering a direct exchange with them. What we see again and again is that the more enthusiastic the participants are, the greater the audience's interest becomes.

Additional to the question before, does it ever happen that you contact craftsmen and artists you have had an eye on through other fairs, printed media or the internet?
Yes, that sometimes happens. In this case, when you don't know the person concerned at all, you examine their work very closely. You look at a lot of material, talk to the person on the telephone, and pay a visit to their shop or studio. This gives you an idea of whether their participation is promising and the chemistry is right. This is important because preparations for a live workshop are intensive and the participant should place demands on quality and design principles similar to our own.

Please tell us more about this year’s EXEMPLA. What do you think are the biggest innovations we will see, or what should we look for?
This year I wouldn't necessarily speak of innovations, an abundance of which we had in 2020 in "Textiles -- Materials of the Future." For our anniversary we envisaged a kind of "best of", contributions or personalities who have made a deep impression on audiences and on us personally. A review of participants whose careers have been influenced by the special show, or topics that came up repeatedly, that is very important to us, such as protection of monuments and education. Still, we didn't want to limit ourselves to a backward glance, but instead to reflect the current state of affairs, and how artists, designers, and artisans have developed in the meantime. One example is the glassmaker Florian Lechner, who won the EXEMPLA Prize at the 1977 special show. Lechner has continued to be active and develop to this day; last year, at over 80 years of age, he was awarded a design prize in Italy.
Also, we have very compelling contributions scheduled for 2022. A large-scale, walk-in windmill that can be disassembled, by Martin Lhotak of Prague; a treehouse that will be built in the course of the fair in collaboration between the famous U.S. treehouse builder Pete Nelson and the Baumbaron in Bavaria; the English toymaker Robert Race with his poetically bizarre constructions. In other words, collaborations among people who come together to undertake a project. A further project of this kind is the restoration of the facade stucco of the Max-Liebling House in Tel Aviv, one of the Bauhaus buildings in the "White City" that stands under strict protection. Here, stucco apprentices from Baden-Württemberg will collaborate with Israeli architecture students. At EXEMPLA they will make samples of this special stucco in a live workshop.

What is the purpose of the live workshops?
It is no longer the case that every village and town has a baker, shoemaker, blacksmith, carpenter, etc., and you can look over their shoulder as they work. In the meantime, most people are no longer familiar with many of the working steps involved in trades or crafts. Then too, many of our participants employ quite exotic processes or techniques, which makes their demonstrations even more fascinating, even for their fellow craftsmen. Our live workshops serve to encourage an exchange of ideas between exhibitors and the audience. We have even had participants who were inspired by onlookers to try out new ideas in their work. The feedback is direct when you work in front of a live audience. Many participants have told us how great they were motivated by this arrangement.

What are your ambitions for the show in the future? Has anything fundamentally changed or evolved in the 50 years of EXEMPLA?

Yes, of course, there have been many changes over the past 50 years, such as the size of the show, the funding, the exhibition design. The first EXEMPLA occupied 6000 square meters, an incredibly large area. In 1971 this shrunk to 2000 sq. m. and today's area is just about 640 sq, m. Nor does funding flow as generously now as it did in the 1970s and 1980s. During the first 15 years, it was international state commissioners, known as the EXEMPLA Committee, who determined their countries participants their own exhibition architect. There was an international jury who awarded the Exempla Prizes each year, small-scale sculptures by well-known artists such as Max Bill, Arnoldo Pomodoro, Fritz König, Stanislav Libensky, etc. Originally there were no live workshops, either. Max Bill was also a member of the jury.
Another change relates to the emergence, based on EXEMPLA and the JEWELLERY show, of two further special shows, TALENTS (1980) and MODERN MASTERS. These placed a greater emphasis on our purpose of exhibiting masters of the crafts and encouraging young artisans. All four shows reciprocally supplement each other, resulting in a synergy effect. All four shows based in our department rely on the network that has been built up over 60 years and in which almost 40 countries cooperate. This situation may well be as unique worldwide as our four exhibitions themselves.

Why is it important for craftsmen and -women to be represented at EXEMPLA or let’s say: how do they profit from it?
The exhibitors are presented in the show in a very elaborate and attractive way. They have a great deal of space, and an architect designs their stand in accordance with their ideas and requirements. Everything is custom-built and organized without any fees or costs. This is a great encouragement. The hall devoted to Crafts and Design, conceived for audiences who have an affinity with the crafts, attracts large numbers of visitors every year. This amounts to a great opportunity for artists. Then there is the experience of meeting and greeting the fair's audience. This often leads to new contacts, with new customers but also with fellow artists. The participants frequently obtain offers for exhibitions or collaborations as a result. When things go well, EXEMPLA can be quite lucrative.

More of a philosophical question: why do you think is craftsmanship important to us?
Trades and crafts are part and parcel of society, part of our culture. Working with our hands is involved in almost every facet of our lives. This has been a tradition for millennia and is very important for both the present day and the future.

How do you think the show and your work improves the field of crafts? Do you see yourself as a kind of revolutionary who prepares the ground for innovation in the field of craft?
I don't see this as my or our purpose. What we do is select and present exemplary things, to illustrate quality, skill, mastery, in the hope of encouraging young people to take up a career in the crafts. Also to aid exhibitors professionally with this show, to motivate and honor them.

I have read that there are many professions in the crafts that are close to extinction. Do you think the innovation and technological advancement we were talking about can be dangerous?

No more so than for all the other professions or occupations in the industrial, technical or intellectual fields. Whether we like it or not, we are living in the digital age, and this naturally involves changes. We just have to accept them, and the sacrifices they are bound to entail in every field. The clock can't be turned back. We should accept the challenge. 

What do you think could help to improve the status quo of the crafts. How could we make it more attractive?
I think the crafts and trades are intrinsically attractive already. It is just that the media have not recognized this to any extent, if at all, and done enough to promote them. This a situation that has to change. Another point, for me personally, is that people in the field of crafts or applied arts have to fight to be recognized as artists. I can understand this, but think it is unnecessary. I don't care what the label on the box says, as long as the contents are good. I don't make any distinction anymore between a painting, a sculpture, or a vase or ring. The quality has to be right, and the object presented with self-confidence.

About the Interviewee

Angela Böck studied Art History, History, History of Early Christian and Late Antique Art, and History of Byzantine Art in Munich, Rome, and Pisa. Her Ph.D. thesis discussed "The Sala Regia at the Vatican as an Example of the Self-Portrayal of the Papacy in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century at the Vatican."
She has worked since 1992 as exhibition officer at Handwerkskammer für München und Oberbayern. In 2003 she was promoted to the deputy department head. She continues to be responsible for the conception and organization of numerous exhibitions at Galerie Handwerk in Munich. From 1993 to 2002 she organized the international competition TALENTE, in 2003 she changed to the organization of EXEMPLA.

About the author

Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. From 2015 to 2016 she made an Internship as Content Manager 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 until as Marketing and Design management Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement till the end of 2019. Since 2020 she is Digital Account Manager at Klimt02.