What I find important is that the perception and contextualisation of jewellery is actually always determined by form, colour and surface quality. Norman Weber Curator of Schmuck 2024 interviewed by Julie Metzdorf

Interview  /  JulieMetzdorf   BehindTheScenes   Curating
Published: 20.11.2023
Norman Weber. Portrait: © Christiane Förster Norman Weber. Portrait: © Christiane Förster
Julie Metzdorf
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Norman Weber. Brooch: Juwel #24, 2022. Plastic, acrylic paint, stainless steel, 935/000 Silver.. Photo by: Norman Weber. Awarded at: Friedrich Becker Prize 2023. Norman Weber
Brooch: Juwel #24, 2022
Plastic, acrylic paint, stainless steel, 935/000 Silver.
Photo by: Norman Weber
Awarded at: Friedrich Becker Prize 2023
© By the author. Read Copyright.

Norman Weber, jewellery artist based in Kaufbeuren, winner of the Friedrich Becker Prize 2023 – and curator of the upcoming special show SCHMUCK 2024 as part of «Handwerk & Design» at the Internationale Handwerksmesse in Munich talks about the selection session and his artistic point of view.
Many jewellery lovers already know you, or at least some of your work, but I would still like to introduce you in a little more detail here. Can you tell us something about yourself?
I trained as a goldsmith and silversmith at the Berufsfachschule für Glas und Schmuck (vocational school for glass work and jewellery making) in Kaufbeuren-Neugablonz. I later studied at the Kunstakademie (academy of art) in Munich, in the jewellery class under Hermann Jünger and Otto Künzli. At the same time, I passed my state examination to become an art teacher. Since 2011, I have been teaching at my former training center and am now head of the vocational school for glass and jewellery in Neugablonz.

And, of course, during all this time, you have also always made your own jewellery. What kind of jewellery do you make, what does it look like, what is perhaps special about it?
It is actually quite difficult to answer that because, over the years, I have worked on completely different themes and these have also resulted in completely different solutions in terms of form. In this respect, a now deceased collector once said to me that the minute he gets used to something I do, I go and do something totally different. I have always taken that less as a criticism, but more as a fitting description of the way I work. In retrospect, if simplified, my work can be split into two major themes. One group revolves around the theme of jewellery, for example, opulence and rich colours, but also the question of whether something is genuine or fake. Alongside this, however, is another series of pieces that have a clearly autobiographical reference.

I know a couple of your works and I would say you do not shy away from popular culture. There is, for example, a portrait of Barbie and something that looks like an Oktoberfest carousel. Can that also be regarded as an aesthetic line, with rich colours, where fake plays a major role, as you have already said?
My socialisation certainly also plays a role. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and so I really did grow up with Barbie. And I was actually always interested in aesthetics and fakes, things that simulate other things and try to portray a better reality. I definitely would have been very interested in the subject of film architecture too. By this I mean ensuring that the scene is adequately prepared for the camera shot while everything else actually emerges as the backdrop. These were things I also gave a great deal of attention to.

Would you say that jewellery for you is always also a big world on a small scale?
Yes, absolutely. I believe it was Peter Skubic who said that the cosmos of jewellery definitely has something all-encompassing about it. And that is something you definitely also experience as a goldsmith in that you can actually determine all the components yourself and create your own microcosm in the process.

And so we turn to SCHMUCK 2024 and the selection you have made as curator of the upcoming special show. There were more than 600 applications this year. With the aid of photos, you selected just over 60 works by jewellery artists from 30 countries. This involves a lot of discipline and is presumably quite process, as you cannot reconsider the criteria used to make your selection with each new photo. What type of jewellery pieces were you looking for in the first place? In other words, what features did a piece have to have in order for you to ultimately select it for the SCHMUCK special show?
This only became apparent over the two days that I had for the selection process. There were more than 2,700 images to be viewed and my task was to look through them all on the first day and come up with a rough category. Straight away, I was totally impressed by the incredible variety and creativity that characterises this international scene of artists’ jewellery. At the same time, as a type of reflex, you ask yourself, well, how am I going to categorise any of this? But various things become clear over time. And the important point here is to say that right now I am not a curator bringing together a theme-based exhibition specifically inviting jewellery makers whose work I have seen over the years and whose work I also know in its original form. What is essential here is for me to make judgements based on the photos. I consider what I interpret into these photos in terms of quality in form and content and, of course, being transported beyond the form – what do I interpret and ultimately what is really there. And that is entirely up to the original object and I am already very excited about what, in the end, will be on show in the display cases. My perspective, which I have now also accepted as such, is that of a jewellery maker with a clear interest in the work produced by my fellow artists. This view is definitely subjective, although over these two days I went through the various categories into which I had organised the pieces several times. As a consequence of this, certain specifications then also emerged, making it clear that the exhibition was actually primarily concerned with wearable jewellery. And that somewhere the exhibition takes account of the diverse range and variety of artistic approaches as well as where the artists come from.

Did certain themes crop up time and again or was there a particular aesthetic that made you think that there was obviously something in the air?
I more had the impression that a kind of globalised aesthetic is developing. This is probably due to the fact that, as a result of social media and international networking between universities, ideas are exchanged on everything and so certain themes simply spread to different places. It does not mean, however, that this is arbitrary. There are certainly individual items where you had to get to know a bigger aspect of the work, but I believe socialisation plays a certain role in determining the context in which the world is perceived. The artists’ own experiences are also given space and are then expressed   in their own works. I can imagine that traditions can also be reflected on. One does not necessarily contradict the other.

Can you perhaps name a couple of examples of pieces that have really stuck in your memory and that you will be particularly pleased to see at SCHMUCK?
Yes, I would like to mention three artists. The first is Yael Olave Munizaga, an artist born in Chile, who made brooches from recycled roll-on deodorant balls. What I find very charming about this work is that it involves upcycling but is taken so far that the origin of the material is actually completely forgotten. Another artist would be Hilde Dramstad from Norway, who has made sewn fabric pendants which address subliminal fears and she has found a very individual expression in doing so. In complete contrast to this is the work of Takayoshi Terajima from Japan, who uses AI to produce daily self portraits, which he then processes into jewellery using traditional craft skills. I think these examples demonstrate how extraordinarily broad the spectrum of works was, including of course, in terms of the artists’ origin.

And overall, after looking through 2,700 photos, or 600 application pieces, where does SCHMUCK 2024, or artists' jewellery to be more precise, stand?
Well, you have probably already established that I find it hard to generalise or break the pieces down to basic keywords. The impression I had was that, despite the very different techniques used, ranging from sewing needles through to AI, for example, it was very clear that many of the works were created very carefully and with great attention to detail. At least this is what the photos reflected. I find this exciting in that over the last few years I more had the impression that an aesthetic of randomness was actually being cultivated, by which I mainly mean the technical implementation. And I also explain this to myself in that it was probably meant to be understood as a liberation from these standards of artistic craftsmanship.

Do craft skills actually still play a role in jewellery making?
What I find important is that the perception and contextualisation of jewellery is actually always determined by form, colour and surface quality. After all, the pieces will be understood and interpreted by the observers, irrespective of the techniques used to make them. And I had the impression that the submitted pieces all show that the artists are very aware of their media and that they also used them in a conscious and specifically skilful manner, if you will, but not necessarily in such a traditional sense of craftsmanship.

At the school where you yourself are artistic director and also a teacher, apprentices are trained as engravers and glass painters as well as goldsmiths and silversmiths. What is it that still attracts young people today to go into skilled crafts and jewellery in particular?
Well of course I think digitalisation is absolutely exciting and very enticing. And that is the case for our students, too. At the same time, however, we are all people and beings who perceive their environment through their senses. And I believe our students have a definite need to grasp, discover and understand their world, their surroundings, with their hands. And then, of course, it is still incredibly fascinating when things that exist in the imagination are suddenly there in reality, when you can touch them, feel them, wear them, where the surface and form are simply convincing.

A special aspect of SCHMUCK and actually every exhibition with selected participants is, of course, that there is no general theme or motto, so the widest variety of pieces is united from across all generations, all schools, all cultural groups and continents, using the broadest range of materials and techniques. I bet that was a challenge for you as curator, but it also applies to visitors to the exhibition – opportunity or agony of choice?
Well the opportunity is definitely to see how you can approach the subject of jewellery in the first place, and that this word itself is anything but a fixed definition, as it is sometimes suggested in public when we exhibit items in shop displays.

SCHMUCK has a 60 year tradition and has been an important forum and meeting place for contemporary jewellery artists, a kind of gateway to the world, since the very beginning. The annual get-together is in Munich in March – 2024 will get underway as early as the end of February – buyers, collectors, curators, everyone will be at SCHMUCK. What role can an analogue exhibition like this play in the age of social media and limitless image transfers?
I am confident that the visitors are still very interested in seeing the objects in analogue form too. This applies especially to jewellery artists, who, as the saying goes, also like to see the backs of the pieces too. Of course, photos can only show partial aspects of the other side. It may look very attractive and a lot of things work well on the photo, but some features will just remain a projected image. I would like to see analogue opportunities for displaying jewellery to remain in place at future SCHMUCK shows too. Something I find very beneficial is the fact that for several years now these items are subsequently also displayed in other places, such as in Valencia in 2023. I think this is really great.

Above all else, SCHMUCK is also a meeting place and an opportunity to talk about the pieces, right in front of the pieces…
Absolutely. And it is also wonderful that such a big accompanying programme has developed over the years, where time and again you see how mobile all the students and designers are, how they all come to Munich and rent spaces to present their work to an audience. And this is so tightly concentrated into the week and a half, which provides a really good opportunity to exchange ideas and make new contacts, or perhaps get to know others in person.

We are all really looking forward to seeing your selection at SCHMUCK 2024 – we can't wait. Many thanks for talking to us and providing us with this taster of what is to come!

About the Interviewee

Born 1964 in Germany, Norman Weber is one of the most fascinating jewelry voices coming out of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. Having practical training in both gold and silversmithing, Norman earned his Masters at the renowned establishment under the direction of Otto Künzli, Herman Jünger and Horst Sauerbruch. Here is where the then twenty-five year old began his search for innovative paths in contemporary jewellery. Today he is passing on this experience and knowledge at educational institutions in Stockholm, Göteborg, Amsterdam, Wismar and Halle.


About the author

Julie Metzdorf
studied art history and literature in Regensburg and Seville. As a cultural journalist, she mainly works for radio and print magazines; her focus is on art, applied art and crafts. She lives in Munich.

Portrait: © Julie Metzdorf