Contemporary Art Jewelry in Perspective

Contemporary Art Jewelry in Perspective


[SAAM Theme] Katie Crooks: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Katie Crooks, I’m the public programs coordinator for the museum. Thank you, all of you, for coming inside on this very lovely day. The Renwick, as many of you know, will be closing for renovations at the end of this year, and we have a jam-packed schedule for the fall to make very good use of the time that we have left, so please grab a calendar of events before you leave today, to see what we have coming up. Two new exhibitions, and a bunch of public programs. Before we get started today, please silence any cell phones or noise-making devices you may have brought with you. It is much appreciated. As for today’s program, the museum was approached by the Art Jewelry Forum several months ago. They had a new book coming out that they thought we would be interested in, and they were quite right. Art Jewelry Forum, in conjunction with Lark Books, published, just this month, “Contemporary Art Jewelry in Perspective,” an ambitious attempt to give art jewelry context and global history, while addressing several current issues. It includes essays by a number of contributors well-versed in the field, and we are fortunate today, thanks to the Art Jewelry Forum, to have the publication’s editor, art historian and curator, Damian Skinner, with us. Damian is the Curator of Applied Art and Design, sorry about that, is the Curator of Applied Art and Design at Auckland Museum in New Zealand, and the former editor of the Art Jewelry Forum. He was a Newton International Fellow at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and has numerous publications under his belt. Today, he joins us at the Renwick to discuss his new publication and the field of art jewelry today. Please join me in welcoming Damian to the Renwick. [Applause] Damian Skinner: Thank you very much, everybody. Can you hear me okay? Thank you, Katie for the opportunity to be here, for the introduction and all of you for coming, and to Art Jewelry Forum as well, for making this possible. I appreciate you coming, especially on such a lovely day, and when in a place where there are so many amazing things to see, and I don’t really count myself amongst one of the treasures of Washington, DC, so I feel really special that you’ve come here to see me. Thank you. When I thought about this book, putting this book together, I had an idea of who it was for. Quite a clear idea, quite quickly on in the process, and I would imagine a student who had graduated from a course in contemporary jewelry. And, you know, as it happens when you graduate, people want to know what it is you’ve done, and what you think you’re going to do, and I thought the poor student, I mean, who can explain what contemporary jewelry and who it’s for, where it comes from, and I struggle to do that, at the best of times, so I imagine that picking up the book, and I had my idea, it was going to be really quite big, which it is kind of big, I didn’t think it would be yellow, so that’s new. They would pick it up, and they would say, “Read this. If you want to know what I am, where I come from, and what I’m doing, this is the book for you.” And, so I kind of imagined a book that would talk about what kind of thing contemporary jewelry was. You know, it’s a kind of object, what sort of object. What kind of practices? What, when we say that, too, what do we mean? We talk about where it comes from, we’re now talking about a practice that has a history of almost 70 years if you date it from the 1940s, with the Modernist jewelry movement. It kicked off here in the United States. And then I also wanted the book to talk about what are the current and future challenges and opportunities of contemporary jewelry, so those are the three parts that you’ll find in the book. It covers all of those things. I guess I should say something about the term “Contemporary Jewelry” before I begin. I chose that term because it was the broadest term that I could find for all the different kind of objects and practices that come into the field. There are lots of terms. “Art Jewelry” is very common, particularly here in the United States. “Author Jewelry” is common in Europe. “Contemporary Jewelry,” there might even be others. I liked “Contemporary Jewelry” because it was broad, and because it could cover, you know, various sort of traditional studio craft, which made in a studio by the person who designed it, may be very limited production run, usually a one-off, and very much invested in materials and skills and tradition, right through to contemporary jewelry that wasn’t even an object anymore, that might only exist in a photograph, or in a performance, and all of those things, I felt, could be captured by that term, “Contemporary Jewelry.” The talk that I want to give today is mostly concentrated on part one, which is the part that talks about what contemporary jewelry is, some ways of thinking about that as a particular kind of object in the world, and I guess I chose that to focus on because I think, without having a sense of what we mean when we say contemporary jewelry, it’s very difficult to talk about anything else, so it seemed to me that perhaps a good place to start. But, I want to begin, not with the book that’s brought us here today, “Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective,” but with another publication entirely. Every August, the British version or edition of Vanity Fair magazine publishes a supplement called “Vanity Fair on Jewelry.” Here it is, the cover. Mimicking the look and feel of the original, “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” is dedicated to the glittering world of luxury or fine jewelry. This isn’t a pamphlet or a brochure that is demurely tucked into the pages of the magazine proper, but rather, it’s a separate publication as thick as the real Vanity Fair and with the same publication standards. As the proverb suggests, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” but if the backyard of contemporary jewelry’s house is a nicely mown lawn and shrubs, this is like looking into fine jewelry’s backyard, and finding the lawn has been replaced with an infinity pool. From contemporary jewelry perspective, which is the perspective that I have, this magazine represents unimaginable wealth and cultural power. I don’t need to tell anyone that’s gathered here today, that there will not be, any time soon, a Vanity Fair on contemporary jewelry. So, thinking about what I found when I looked inside the “Vanity Fair on Jewelry,” the photoshoots in the magazine are the most obvious area of difference to what I would find in contemporary jewelry publications, and this is one of the images from photoshoot about pearls, and I liked it because it was TOGS swimming clothes, and I thought, since I mentioned the infinity pool, it kind of made sense, this is what you’d wear if you were in the field of luxury, of fine jewelry. These images take their cues from advertising and the product catalogue. The jewelry is photographed in a very specific way that indicates commodity, rather than art object. When the jewelry is shown on the body, a number of things stand out. First, these are models, toned and tanned and groomed, quite different to the bodies that usually wear contemporary jewelry, even if contemporary jewelry bodies are also usually quite unrealistically attractive. And, I should point out, too, that I think celebrity is a major thing going on here, that this is Gemma Arterton, who is a British actor, and the magazine is filled with actually famous people. Contemporary jewelers often use famous people to wear their work, but when I say famous, I mean “contemporary jewelry famous.” We have a phrase in New Zealand, I don’t know if you would have anything similar over here, but it says, “World-famous in New Zealand,” and that’s what Contemporary Jewelry gets. It’s world famous in Contemporary Jewelry-land, but “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” is filled with actually famous people that other people would know. Second, the work is displayed through poses that belong to the repertoire of the fashion industry. Hand artfully touching the face so the ring is clearly visible, as you can see here. I’ve, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of contemporary jewelry that would use these particular poses, and in the fashion shoot of the bathing TOGS, I haven’t got any more pictures of that for you, but artfully arched backs and bosoms, and buttocks, as I’m sure you could imagine. Third, we are supposed to see the clothes as well as the jewelry as a type of commodity. Something for sale. For example, you never get a list of what a model is wearing in a contemporary jewelry photograph, unless that’s the result of a collaboration with a fashion designer, and then you would in fact get some mention of the clothes the model is wearing. Well, contemporary jewelry photos are usually just as styled as the images in this magazine, the ideology behind the styling is very different. While the hope is that you might desire and then buy the object on display, the piece of contemporary jewelry, the contemporary jewelry photograph maintains enough plausible deniability to make a claim that it is art, and thus consumed with cultural or conceptual questions, rather than commerce. So a contemporary jewelry photograph wants you to buy the object, but it doesn’t want you to think that it wants you to buy the object, it wants to be very subtle about that. Sometimes, from a contemporary jewelry perspective, the text in Vanity Fair on jewelry, is unintentionally hilarious. I’m pretty sure this isn’t on purpose. Author Alice B. Bee, for example, tells us that there are two kinds of wearers of jewelry. Sheep, who diligently follow the flock and the fashion set by others, and Unicorns, and this is a quote from her. “Style originals, women who have chosen jewelry to express themselves. Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Marilyn, Elizabeth Taylor, the Girl with the Pearl Earring, all of whom chose pieces that extend their characters and to hold their stories.” Now, the extraordinary gaps in logic required to conflate these various individuals is quite impressive, an historical span of ages, but indeed, “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” isn’t even a person so much as a character in Vermeer’s painting, Tracy Chevalier’s book, and the movie based on it, starring Scarlett Johansson. So you’ve got Scarlet on the left, and the actual painting on the right. So, if these are all things that are different, on another level, reading “Vanity Fair on Jewelry,” you might say the tone of upbeat, positive cheerleading links this magazine with most contemporary jewelry publications. Just like in this magazine, which is designed to sell and promote the work, and therefore can’t be critical of the work it promotes, contemporary jewelry publications also tend to promote and celebrate, the text acting as praise and support, rather than, and very infrequently criticism. In each case, this is motivated by different factors. Commercial imperative, in the case of “Vanity Fair on Jewelry,” because you can’t be negative about your sponsors or the people who provide you with your living, and I think in the case of contemporary jewelry, a model of craft solidarity, and a feeling that we need to support each other, but in the end, the result is surprisingly similar. At some level on both “Vanity Fair on Jewelry,” and the majority of magazines and publications on contemporary jewelry, the tone, the feeling, is quite the same. There are some missed opportunities in “Vanity Fair on Jewelry.” The conversation between fashion designer, Caroline Herrera, and her daughter, Patricia Lancing, talking about her jewelry as passed down through the generations, is full what I would call “shallow posturing” and meaningless blather. It is informative about both the jewelry, in this case luxury pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels, and what it might mean for such objects to function as heirlooms. This is actually a very important and interesting phenomena, especially because, from a contemporary jewelry perspective, contemporary jewelry tends not to function in this way. It is not a liquid asset like, say, a diamond and gold bracelet, where any signs of wearing and use will tend to devalue contemporary jewelry, from a museum perspective. Use affects value, and disrupts contemporary jewelry’s primary status as a vehicle of artistic expression. From a conservator’s point of view, for example, thinking about it as a museum professional, an object should remain precisely the way it was when it left the makers studio, not register the traces of life it had after into at the world. And yet, despite this magazine’s tendency to be distracted by the glitter of precious metals and sparkling gems, so that analysis gives way to adulation, I find myself strangely challenged when I read this publication. Ultimately, “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” pays attention to the purpose and function of jewelry as jewelry, a certain kind of object that operates in the world that isn’t just about the maker, but also about the user. Fine jewelry invokes the user as a person, rather than an undefined viewer, reader, or visitor, which is generally the case with contemporary jewelry. Throughout “Vanity Fair on Jewelry,” we get a parade of people who wear, and own, and interact with the jewelry in these pages. That’s really uncommon in the contemporary jewelry field, where even in the case of named collectors, the relationship between them and the jewelry they have amassed is less important than these objects as examples of outstanding artistic practice. The focus is on what these objects mean, within a history of contemporary jewelry movement, within the movement, rather than what they mean to the individual who collected, perhaps wore them. The emphasis remains on the maker. The user is effectively invisible. In the case of Helen Drutt and the big catalogue that many of you will know, that it’s not a catalogue, it’s a book. It’s both a book and a catalogue, but it’s huge and orange, and very. She does, in fact, talk about the objects that she has collected as a connection between her and the makers, which is very interesting, I would say that is quite unusual, but that owner as collector, rather than owner as wearer, and in the case of Daphne Farago, the catalogue that was published by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where their collection has now ended up, definitely talks about the objects as part of a history of contemporary jewelry. Through these amazing objects, we can understand what contemporary jewelry is, how it was developed, who the masters of, and mistresses of contemporary jewelry have been. So, I’m going to get back to the book now, in case you were wondering if we’re going to get there, it is. Looking outside the field is one way to see the values and beliefs that inform contemporary jewelry. After reading “Vanity Fair on Jewelry,” for example, I’ve begun to identify the ways in which the kind of jewelry I care about, the kind of writing I do, is distinctive. And to return to the book that brought us here today, I can recognize these differences more easily, because I am the editor of “Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective.” Indeed, I would say that I wouldn’t have been able to analyze “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” as I have in this talk, without the tools that this book makes available. Let me give you some examples from Part One of the book. Excuse my terrible photos taken in my hotel room. Namita Wiggers writes about inheritance, and she makes the point that contemporary jewelry isn’t an heirloom in the way, in the same way as a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet might be. As she puts it, “Contemporary Jewelry challenges long-held traditions of intergenerational transfers of wealth through jewelry.” The idea that you can hand jewelry on as a way of passing wealth between one generation and another. Since the materials of contemporary jewelry aren’t intrinsically valuable, investment in contemporary jewelry is dependent upon an artist’s status and reputation, which is developed and maintained by an infrastructure that is similar to the infrastructure that sustains contemporary art or modern art. Fine art. This is quite different to fine jewelry, and it means that the value of contemporary jewelry isn’t necessarily apparent from generation to generation, and we all will have heard stories of people with a quite remarkable collections of studio-craft, who don’t know what to do with them because their children or grandchildren don’t necessarily recognize the value of these objects in the same way that most of us, even if we didn’t like it, would totally recognize the value of a whopping great diamond, or a big emerald bracelet. As Wiggers suggests, while most contemporary with the white cube of the contemporary art museum and gallery in mind, the transfer from home to institution isn’t as easy as one might think. If works are intended to be, and are, worn, visible signs or marks of use run the risk of devaluing objects as less than perfect examples of art. Benjamin Lignel writes about legitimacy. As he puts it, “the problem of writing about contemporary art jewelry starts with four words, ‘I wish you well.’” According to Lignel, it’s a problem of attitude, with the task of evaluating a body of work hijacked by the field’s insecurity about it’s legitimacy, reviewers forgo critical evaluation, in favor of justification. They defend, when they should criticize. Writers in the contemporary jewelry field are caught between the need to report, and the fear that criticism might undermine one of their own. Of course, the problem is not that most reviews are positive, because contemporary jewelers are often very good at what they do, and deserve praise, and it’s a field with many rich and interesting practices that those of us who are familiar with it feel fine with investing our time supporting and working on. But the issue is that reviewers tend to not define the criteria of success that they are using, or talk about why the jewelry is worth discussing. We tend to take those things for granted, and as a result, our texts, our analyses, are not as sharp and powerful as it should be. Kevin Murray writes about pleasure, and in doing so, he describes aspects of jewelry that the images in “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” are definitely interested in representing. As Murray puts it, “Jewelry affords many pleasures. It’s contact with the body provides it with a strong, erotic potential, but off the page, pleasure isn’t limited to the eye. It is the tactile pleasure of a polished surface on skin, on metal that is heated by the body or the subtle pressure of jewelry on sensitive areas like the neck or the wrist.” “There is also,” he notes, “the pleasure of enchantment,” and this is what I think “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” is trading in. According to Murray, “Jewelry can suggest a fantastic world, ridilant with nostalgia.” While not necessarily sexualized, it does offer an escape from the restrictions of normal existence, and that’s very true of fashion magazines, in fact, most magazines, and “Vanity Fair” definitely, which is aspirational in the sense that we should desire to be like the people who are in the pages. But let’s return to the question of what makes contemporary jewelry distinctive. Most people working in the contemporary jewelry field would agree with the following propositions, I think. It’s a kind of jewelry, and so it shares things in common with conventional jewelry and with the wider category of adornment. It’s oriented to the body, and is often worn, and belongs to a category of objects that are involved with different ways of wearing, so you could connect it to fashion, you could connect it to prosthetics, you could connect it to various aspects of science, if you wanted to. It’s a kind of craft practice, and it’s affected by contact with art, on the one hand, and design, on the other. It belongs to the wider category of the visual arts. In my introduction to the book, “Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective,” I used three works by Otto Künzli to talk about the diversity of contemporary jewelry. Künzli is a well-known jeweler who teaches at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, which is possibly, arguably, the greatest contemporary jewelry school in the world, the one that most, you know, has the most prestige and power. And his work is a great example, I think, of the conceptual tendency that makes contemporary distinctive. And which materials and skills are placed in the service of ideas, rather than being celebrated as ends in themselves. And, just an example, “Gold Makes Blind,” which is the rubber bangle bracelet that you can see the, it’s a rubber tube with a gold ball of gold hidden inside it, and basically, what this work does, is it sets two kind of value against each other. There’s the value of precious materials, which is what conventional jewelry is based on, so in part, the value is how much the materials are worth that your work is being made of. And then the other kind of value that he brings into play is artistic expression, and the maker’s conceptual work, which is the thing that underpins the value of contemporary jewelry, and in a sense, by eclipsing the gold ball, Otto Künzli replaces one kind of value with the other, and I think that’s a classic move of contemporary jewelry, and is what would make contemporary jewelry different to the fine jewelry that you get in the pages of “Vanity Fair,” which would have no interest in denying the value of the raw materials that it’s made of. But what makes it unique? What makes contemporary jewelry special? When I met together with four other writers to create part one of this book, we discovered one way to explore the diversity of contemporary jewelry was to identify and describe the spaces in which contemporary jewelry is found. The situations, the places, and events in which it is encountered, discussed, made, and presented. In contrast with art forms like painting or sculpture, or photography, contemporary jewelry circulates through a more diverse range of situations, and inhabits, not only the wall or the plinths of museums like this one, but also the private spaces of collector’s drawers, and the body as it moves through the public spaces of the street. So, any work, well, not now, because it’s in the museum, but any work you could potentially find in here, could also potentially be found outside, on the body, at home, and a whole number of spaces, and situations, and that’s very rare. Much of the energy and discussions about contemporary jewelry comes from having to take these different contexts into account. You can’t just assume it belongs in one place, you have to account for the fact that it can belong in many different places. Well, contemporary jewelry isn’t entirely determined by the spaces in which it circulates, it’s sensitive to these spaces. So we identified seven, in the book. The page, made up of digital and printed spaces, is a space governed by the values of art history, notably, originality and innovation, and it’s deeply concerned with legitimacy and authority. What are the most important pieces, what’s the canon of contemporary jewelry? What constitutes an important and original piece of contemporary jewelry? Who has the power to define what contemporary jewelry should be? The bench, a piece of furniture used in the production of jewelry, is also a changing and evolving discussion about the makers of contemporary jewelry and their activities, as well as a key sight in which values like authenticity and mastery are confirmed, sometimes challenged. And we found it very interesting that, even though many contemporary jewelers don’t use the bench any more, the bench is still one of the key places where contemporary jewelers choose to photograph themselves, near or at a bench, because the bench is a guarantee of authority, of history, of craft, and that was fascinating to us. The display device of the plinth brings contemporary jewelry in contact with the museum, and history’s and values of spaces like this. And contemporary strategies of display, obviously things have moved on quite a lot from the plinth, although the plinth or the, the case, the vitrine, is a key place in which you see contemporary jewelry. The drawer, in turn, is a discussion of classification. Collecting and preservation, as contemporary jewelry is shaped by all the different drawers, private and public, in which it is stored, and that includes drawers in institutions like this, but also drawers at home, which may be a sock drawer, as would be the case for me, but could also be elaborately produced drawers as in the case for people who are serious collectors. The street is about use and the process of creating meaning as contemporary jewelry circulates beyond the jeweler’s studio, the white cube of the gallery or the museum, or the private space of the collector’s drawers. This is what happens when you wear it and you go outside and you interact with people. The body is, like the bench, one of the privileged spaces that shapes contemporary jewelry’s meanings, as the jewelry object encounters both a fleshy home and a complex set of social and cultural ideas. The body is at once this body, or your body. Our body’s made up of flesh and bones, but it is also an incredible ideology, a cluster of values and ideas that are fought over by society. Should the body be fat or thin? Are you allowed to control your own reproductive processes? All these kinds of arguments show that the body is always much more than the flesh. Finally, the world. The spaces beyond those usually taken into account by contemporary jewelry discussions, raises questions about politics and ethics. Together, these seven spaces allow us to identify the, what I would call, “the conditions of possibility,” within which contemporary jewelry can exist. The factors I guess, the different people, institutions, and values, that make something possible as a piece of contemporary jewelry, and the change over time, what’s possible now, as an example of contemporary jewelry, wasn’t always possible as a piece of contemporary jewelry, say, 60 years ago. There were different ideas about what was, you could even do, and that, of course, is the shifting of goal posts of art in general. So, I want to give you a little taste of two of the spaces that we talked about. Since we started with a magazine, and because we are here because of a book, I’m going to begin with the page. Books, catalogues, artist’s monographs, press releases, invitations, articles, and newspapers and magazines, and of course websites, blogs, and all the pictures, texts, and events announcements spread over social networks. All of these make up the space of the page. The page is indebted to art history, which is concerned with origins and innovation. A history of avant-garde gestures that break with the past and sit in play new possibilities for contemporary jewelry. And the key goal, in terms of the page, is to create a new move, something that no one has seen before, and if you do that, that will guarantee your place in the canon of important and influential jewelers. You can do that a number of ways. You could do that by breaking with the past, by doing something that no one’s ever seen before, but you can also do it by doing the past in a new way, by thinking about what has happened, but showing us a different dimension of it. The goal, and the key to success, is innovation. That’s what’s going to guarantee you a lot of press in the pages of contemporary jewelry. That’s what you want, because the currency or power of contemporary jewelry is related to the number and quality of pages in which it occurs. So, for example, the Otto Künzli pieces that I showed you, “Gold Makes Blind” has been reproduced again and again in the history of contemporary jewelry. That makes it a masterpiece. That makes it an important piece that we all have to take account of. It’s got power, I’ll leave it for you to decide whether I’ve in fact enhanced or decreased its power by putting it in this book. Internet publishing has changed the contemporary jewelry scene dramatically. All sectors of the contemporary jewelry field have migrated online, which has resulted in a flattening of authority. The primacy of the printed page as the main location of legitimate practice has been challenged, and the publishers no longer powerful gatekeeper, deciding who will and will not be visible by appearing in the pages of the publications that they’re making. And yet, the issues of legitimacy and power haven’t disappeared. They’ve merely moved from one realm, print, which I guess, will have always been the most powerful, and for some times, the only page, to the many realms that take up the pages of the internet, and of course, there are still websites that are more prestigious than other. That hasn’t changed. While it’s tempting to think of the page as the domain of those who work with contemporary jewelry after it’s been made, this isn’t true. Many contemporary jewelers are directly concerned with what takes place on the page whether printed or digital, and they pay attention to the definition and dissemination of their work, as part of what they do. It’s not just something they do because someone asks them. It’s a part of how they see their practice. As much as the bench, the page is a space of making. Thinking about the page in this way leads us to reconsider what the work of contemporary jewelry actually is. For many jewelers, managing how their work is written about, and photographed, is as important as making the objects themselves. And we had a lot of discussions about this, and I think if any of you are jewelers, I would argue that probably maybe a quarter of your time is spent in front of the computer, not in front of the bench, if you use a bench. Does that mean that time spent at the computer is not part of your practice? I would argue that it is. And increasingly that is becoming so. So, when you’re a jeweler, you’re a jeweler sending an email to a writer like me, as much as you are when you’re dealing with metals and mystical craft processes. You’ll all be familiar with the idea of the page as a space for contemporary jewelry, so let me introduce you to the world, which I think is probably the most unusual space that we uncovered, or decided on. While the world is a distant place, beyond the street, on the horizon, it’s also close at hand. It’s encountered whenever the jeweler leaves the bench, reads the newspaper, turns on the TV. The world represents the implications, responsibilities, and possibilities of contemporary jewelry in the space beyond the contemporary jewelry scene. So, everything that happens beyond the places like this. The world brings into play questions that don’t usually find an easy or ready home within the stories that contemporary jewelry tells. As a space, it encourages a number of questions like: Has the world become a better place because of contemporary jewelry? Has contemporary jewelry strengthened communities, helped people escape poverty, or enjoy better health? The very strangeness and irrelevancy of these questions tells us something important about the values that underpin contemporary jewelry. These will be strange questions as long as the desire to be a kind of fine art remains the dominant framework for thinking about contemporary jewelry objects and practice. The materials of jewelry, for example, connect to world politics in a way that’s different from most forms of visual art, which doesn’t use materials with such complex legacies. Mining for precious materials, for example, can involve disrupting people’s lives, damaging the environment, and supporting illegal arms trades and political corruption. The transformation into glittering commodities obscures the dirty sources of gold and diamonds. The elegant vitrines of high-end jewelry boutiques, or the pages of “Vanity Fair” seem a world away from the dirty mines of the Congo. The world provides the opportunity to reconnect these two things and to find ways to disrupt the system that pretends they don’t have anything to do with each other. The meaning of jewelry extends beyond the personal. As a way of connecting people together, jewelry can be a powerful means of mobilizing change. The challenge is to find a way of connecting this potential to the creative values that have shaped contemporary jewelry most powerfully. I would say too much contemporary jewelry has been concerned with the work of the master craftsperson, the work of artistic expression, and not enough, perhaps, with the work of “What does jewelry do, what kinds of functions and opportunities and links can it create?” Contemporary jewelry has an extraordinary ability to materialize social and political relationships to symbolize power and belief. To mark rituals at different stages of life. To tell stories and extend cross-generational bonds. To symbolize psychological states or to encode different kinds of meanings. In the space of the world, contemporary jewelry concerns itself with precisely these issues. So, what I thought, and this is very undeveloped, because I just chose these four images really at random, but what these spaces, these seven different spaces, you can actually start to think differently about the same object. As that object moves through those spaces, it becomes different, or the issues that it raises are different. This is Jan Yager’s “American Collar II” from 1996. It’s made of crack vials and not cracked vials, but crack vials, the ones that have the drugs inside, that she’s collected from urban streets, and so you can see very much that it’s connected to the world in quite an interesting and profound way. Then I thought about it, and I thought, well, if you think about the street, a lot of contemporary jewelry doesn’t have a lot to say about the street, because a lot of contemporary jewelry is not really intended to be worn, so I’m not sure if this piece, for example, has ever entered into the space of the street. Has it been worn by Daphne Farago, who was the person who owned it before it went to the Museum of Fine Art. You could say in some ways, that’s an outcome of the fact that it’s quite powerful in its relationship to the world. Who wants to wear crack vials? I mean, who wants to take the responsibility of putting them on. What are you saying when you put them on? Are you celebrating the fact that there’s urban poverty and crime and horror and drugs? Or are you somehow redeeming it? But how are you redeeming it? I think this work is very interesting for the questions it raises. But, if you think about it, the page, for example, this work is a powerful piece on the page, because it has been reproduced a lot, has been thought about as a very key piece of contemporary American jewelry. Gerd Rothmann, his “Necklace” from 1988, and he, of course, is well-known for using traces of the body, fingerprints or casts of the body, to make works, and so obviously this would have a lot to say about body, but it might also have a lot to say about the kinds of ways that jewelry can create relationships between people, so that might be the street perhaps. And whose body traces are these and who’s wearing this necklace, and how does the act of wearing connect you to the person who’s, not present, but also present in this piece of jewelry. Robert Ebendorf’s “Sardine Tin Can Brooch” could be very interesting when you think of it through the space of the bench, the way in which this represents a very strong tradition, I think, American contemporary jewelry, of the found object, the assemblage or the collage, and the way the artist can, through the manipulation of the materials and putting them together in new forms create very surprising meanings through the everyday or the commonplace, and comment very powerfully on politics or culture, or any manner of things. And then I thought this one, which is a Winfield Fine Art in Jewelry brooch. This was a production piece, really, made by this company who were really at the forefront of using modern techniques, modern materials, and getting designs made by leading modernist artists. And I thought, this piece is a great piece to think about in relation to the street. Traditionally, if we were thinking about this, we would focus on who made it, who designed it, how it relates to modernism, the movements of a certain moment in the 20th century, its New York environment, all of those sorts of things. But also, this was made to be worn by people. This is not precious art, this is art that is designed to move out into the world on someone’s body. So, I mean, that’s terrible isn’t it, terrible art history, but hopefully that gives you some idea of the possibilities of thinking and using spaces. Sometimes, I’m being a little personal here, I find myself wondering if I should escape the heirless world of contemporary jewelry in favor of the much larger, better funded, jewelry world that “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” represents. Lawn is good, but I would love an infinity pool. The thing that keeps me on this side of the fence, though, is the critical potential of contemporary jewelry. The objects and practices that we mean when we refer, when we use that term. The diamond solitaire ring, of the kind you’d find in “Vanity Fair,” is about value, is about skill, status, and tradition, but it takes all of these things as givens. It seeks to extend, or more commonly, to comfortably inhabit the conventions that have developed around such rings. Contemporary jewelry version of a diamond solitaire ring is different, precisely because it will tackle the conventions of value, skill, status, and tradition, that makes such rings meaningful. And it will do this, usually, by choosing forms or materials that disrupt expectations and raise questions. The jewelers featured in “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” don’t make the potential of jewelry part of their subject matter in the same way as happens frequently in the field of contemporary jewelry. And in the end, I realized I like cerebral bling. I like it loaded with conceptual karats and not actual karats. Zero karats is fine if it’s like this. And yet, reading “Vanity Fair on Jewelry,” I find a surprisingly rich conversation about what I would call “the relational potential” of jewelry. How it operates in the world at large, and what kinds of meanings can be attached to it. I’m starting to think that a serious engagement with the relational jewel, will necessarily lead beyond the borders of the contemporary jewelry field. It isn’t going to work for us to stay just thinking about contemporary jewelry if we want to capture this possibility. There are things to be learned from luxury or conventional jewelry that the particular and peculiar qualities of contemporary jewelry simply don’t allow us to get a view of. While I’m not going to give up reading all those unoltchi monographs, or the pages of “Metalsmith,” I’m also going to recognize that reading “Vanity Fair on Jewelry” might not be as frivolous as I initially thought it was. Ultimately, I think we need to approach contemporary jewelry in a way that is grounded in the specific histories and issues of the field, but which is not afraid to look beyond the borders to other worlds, other kinds of practices. This is why “Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective” is divided into three sections. “Part One: Space of Contemporary Jewelry” offers some ways to think about what makes contemporary jewelry a distinctive kind of visual art practice, and it does this by exploring seven spaces in which contemporary jewelry circulates and how the meanings and possibilities of those objects change as they move from one space to another. “Part Two: The History of Contemporary Jewelry” provides an introduction to contemporary jewelry as an international practice that has now existed for the better part of 70 years. There are many challenges in properly for accounting for contemporary jewelry in different parts of the world, and these essays are a contribution to developing a truly global history of contemporary jewelry, and one of those challenges is a fact that it’s an uneven development. In Africa, for example, you don’t have contemporary jewelry in the that way we mean it, happening in, say, the 1950s. You actually, probably, have contemporary jewelry, a field of contemporary jewelry, as we mean it, and as we know it in the United States, and, say in New Zealand, starting in the 90s. That doesn’t mean they don’t have jewelry, because they’ve got a massive amount of jewelry because of De Beers and the mineral wealth of Africa, but it also doesn’t mean that they don’t have adornment, they’ve got a massive history of adornment, but if you mean contemporary jewelry, you’re dealing with a very different story that is the story of contemporary jewelry in Europe or North America. Finally, “Part Three: Contemporary Thinking about Contemporary Jewelry” offers a series of perspectives about the issues that are currently impacting on the way we think about contemporary jewelry, and new developments in related fields that an inspire different ways to think about what we know and the possibilities of the practice that we’re interested in, the present and the future. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how best to understand the changes that craft and contemporary jewelry is under going in the present moment. These dynamics have been labeled the “third wave of craft,” with the first wave being the arts and crafts movement in the turn of the 19th into the 20th centuries, in which craft was formulated as an antidote to the Industrial Revolution. The second wave is the studio craft movement, in which craft became a vehicle for originality and artistic expression. Like much contemporary art, “third wave craft” seeks to create and foster social relations, networks, and communities, through the processes of craft. Within the third wave, the high level of skill obtained by studio craft people is actually a liability. It’s a barrier to participation and engagement. The spirit of “third wave craft” is best expressed in the “DIY movement” or “Craftivism,” craft skills engaged in service of politics, community engagement, social networks. “DIY Craft” for example, is like studio craft stripped of its romantic associations. DIY craft doesn’t believe in truth in the sense of, that animates Studio Craft. There’s no truth to materials, for example. It also seeks to collapse distinctions between artists, craftsperson, designer, small business owner. If you’re a third wave craftsperson, you’re all of those things, and you don’t mind, actually. The distinctive values of third wave craft shines a light on some of the limitations of our current models of writing about craft in contemporary jewelry, and because they developed to deal with studio craft, if you like the Second Wave. Craft discussions generally seek to validate the objects and practices that they talk about. They favor celebration, rather than critical perspectives, and they are quick to define the objects and processes of craft in an oppositional way, e.g. not fine art, not design. This type of discussion tends to promote a victim culture, in which craft needs to be protected, it’s traditions and heritage nurtured. In the meantime, the very real and valuable contributions of craft, including contemporary jewelry, that craft can make to the contemporary culture, aren’t identified or promoted, because we are too busy talking about how we are a victim, how we, people need to pay more attention to us. We miss opportunities that exist for us to say why people should care about us. I feel like I need to be honest with you, and tell you that unfortunately “Contemporary Jewelry in Perspectives” doesn’t have an answer to the challenges of the present, or, perhaps, to be more accurate, I should say that it has lots of answers, and some of which contradict each other. As the editor, I not only take responsibility for that, but I can proudly say that I encouraged it. In the end, I think there are no right answers, just a lot of interesting possibilities, each of which involves some gains and some losses, and that’s going to be different, depending on which answer you choose to follow. Ultimately, my hope for this book, is that it challenges established ideas about contemporary jewelry, and demonstrates that these objects and practices are rich and sophisticated enough to prompt us to think again, and to come up with new thoughts about jewelry, and all the different aspects of culture in society that contemporary jewelry can claim, can properly claim, as its concern and its subject. I hope you enjoy reading “Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective,” and I appreciate the opportunity to present some of those contexts to you today. Thank you. [Applause] [SAAM Theme]

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