‘Schmuck’ @ RMIT Gallery – part 4

26 06 2009

No, I’m not tired of this exhibition yet!

When I first visited, I left with the impression that there were a lot of textile pieces – either wholly made of fabric or thread, or jewellery with such components. I decided to visit again and conduct an objective survey – to look at materials and form.

image from 'Handwerk & Design' media images

Tota Reciclodas (Argentina); image from 'Handwerk & Design' media images

And the results are:

  • 60 jewellers
  • 212 pieces of jewellery
  • 117 brooches – this is by far the most popular form
  • 55 necklaces
  • 16 rings and 16 bracelets
  • only 5 earrings – why is this not a popular form?

In terms of materials:

  • only half of the jewellers have used metals as their predominant material
  • there are 8 jewellers for whom textiles is the focal material – which was interesting to me, given my initial impression; however these pieces are generally much more colourful and larger than the other works, so perhaps it was their sheer visual impact that influenced my view
  • there are few pieces with gems – which could be argued as a quite traditional element in jewellery
  • 2 jewellers have used mother of pearl – which to my mind is probably over-representative of the use of that material in the whole jewellery community
  • there is quite a bit of wood, which is not an uncommon material in my experience; and lots of plastics and ‘collected’ objects

After this, my questions are:

(1) Why so few earrings and rings / so many brooches?

Is it in some part because earrings are limited by weight and size, and have a potentially more awkward position on the body? Perhaps brooches are more adaptable to communicating ideas – it is tempting to suggest that brooches are ‘easy’, in that an idea or creation can be put together and a pin simply put on the back in order to attach to the body … I recall being warned during my degree to integrate the pin or brooch into the piece, and not just ‘slap’ a pin on the back as an afterthought. I’m certainly not implying that is happening here at all, but the clear dominance brooch format is interesting.

If I think about my own work, I realise that most of my pieces are brooches too. However I am hesitant to extrapolate from my work to the general community, as many of my brooches were specifically referencing textiles and therefore being attached to the clothes on the torso made more sense than being hung around the neck or off the ears. I wonder if it is similar for other makers?

On the ring question: personally, I fling my hand around when I talk, so if I make rings then they need to be very sturdy; and not all of my ideas do well as ‘sturdy’. I imagine it may be similar for others, especially those exploring materials that need to be treated with care.

Further, I have considered recent exhibitions I’ve enjoyed and notice they are also largely brooches and necklaces. On a practical note as a maker you can be sure anyone can wear your brooch, however not everyone will be able to wear your earrings or have fingers the size of rings you make – perhaps it is that simple.

(2) Where have the gems gone? Are gems and ‘contemporary jewellery’ incompatible?

(3) Why is metal not more popular? Again, is this traditional versus contemporary?

My previous stories on ‘Schmuck 2009‘ can be found by using the Search facility, or the category cloud, in the right column. ‘Schmuck 2009‘ is at RMIT Gallery until 18th July 2009.

‘the world of small things’ @ Craft Vic

24 06 2009

Kevin Murray has curated the current exhibition ‘The World of Small Things: An Exhibition of Craft Diplomacy‘ at Craft Victoria. Pieces being exhibited have been made in a collaboration between artists/designers from predominantly ‘western’ economies, and artisans from ‘developing/industrializing’ economies.

Exhibition media states: “The world is turning inside out. The global financial crisis has set the world in flux, enabling new relations between rich and poor countries. The collapse of an over-leveraged financial market helps us appreciate the immediacy of hand-crafted objects. These ‘small things’ bypass the rarefied world of brands and the politics of trade restrictions. New craft-design collaborations herald an era of partnership between rich and poor countries…

I have been following some of the stories on Craft Unbound, so it was interesting to see them in person. I am sometimes truly taken by surprise by the scale of pieces, for I unconsciously create my own expectation of their size from photographs or images I see, and there are times the idea is not right. An example is the pendant in the below image, which I expected (for no good reason) to be much smaller. This jewellery is from a collaboration between Martina Dempf (Germany) and grass weavers in Rwanda. More of their story here.

photograph taken with gallery permission

photograph taken with gallery permission

The below teapot is absolutely beautiful – I’ve mentioned a few times previously how much respect I have for artists succeeding with the teapot! This piece was designed by Karl Millard (Australia) and made by an Indian silverware company – the black insert is ebony, and the handle is layered metals. More of their story here. (Below photographs were taken with gallery permission.)

smallthings_3 smallthings_4

All of the works together creates an interesting multi-way dialogue, and the colours are beautiful. A particular highlight colourwise for me is the purple glass vessel below. These works are a collaboration between Jonathon Baskett (Australia) and Nouvel glass Studio in Mexico. More of there story here.

photograph taken with gallery permission

photograph taken with gallery permission

More information and images can also be seen on the Craft Vic blog; and there are many other items available for purchase in enCounter (the retail section of Craft Victoria).

In all cases here the designer has engaged a maker in an ’emerging’ economy … what about the possibility of the flow in the opposite direction? While I do recognise that it is currently less likely, given ‘western’ designers have advantages not yet available to people in their collaborator communities, such as being able to research and locate such artisans via relatively simple access to the internet and being more open to international travel … but I do wonder what beautiful art would be created if an artist/designer in say Siberia designed a piece for a knitter or embroiderer in Fitzroy to make!

While I play with that idea, a question is raised for me: perhaps the flow of the idea-to-making is more viable in the exhibited direction because many of these special craft cultures have been continuously ‘alive’ in these ‘unindustrialised’ economies, whereas in our ‘industrialised’ economies craft has become fragmented (though passionately loved and defended in the pockets it is practiced) … I’m not sure I’ve expressed that well, it may need more time to think through …

In a search for other references, I came across The CraftsMatch Project website, and I like how they connect this movement with previous art movements:
In the nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts Movement turned to traditional cultures in response to the perceived sterility of modern life. When this moved to studio practice in the twentieth century, a number of individual craft artists were inspired by non-Western craft traditions, such as the East Asian influence on ceramics. In the later twentieth-century, a number of craftspersons made individual pilgrimages to a wide range of traditional craft communities in order to absorb the more embedded lifestyle of making. For many, this entailed long-term commitment by craftspersons in assisting their host communities to sustain their craft practice in a globalising market.”

The World of Small Things‘ is at Craft Victoria until 25th July 2009.

Update (25th June): the Craft Vic blog (clog) has uploaded some photographs of the opening night

Update (6th July): the Craft Vic blog (clog) has a new story and images

Update (14th July): Kevin has written for Clog

‘Johannes Kuhnen: a survey of innovation’ @ RMIT Gallery

23 06 2009

Alongside ‘Schmuck 2009’ at the RMIT Gallery is ‘Johannes Kuhnen: a survey of innovation‘.

Exhibition media states: “Johannes Kuhnen has made a pioneering contribution to Australian design and gold and silver smithing through his commitment as a generous educator and innovative practitioner. This exhibition will create linkages between his earlier works, some of which was made in Germany prior to migrating to Australia and new work specifically produced for this exhibition and this will be done both with objects and through a catalogue/monograph to be launched at the opening venue. The exhibition will borrow from Australian public and private collections to facilitate the demonstration of connecting design elements in the work from both significant streams in Kuhnen’s work in jewellery and hollowware.

photograph taken with permission of RMIT gallery

photograph taken with permission of RMIT gallery

The statement on Artabase is also a good introduction: “Johannes Kuhnen is a pioneer of the anodising and colouring process of aluminium and its application in a studio based practice. He combines traditional working methods with industrial materials and processes. The works are recognisable through his dynamic use of colour and form and his attention to detail.

photograph taken with permission of RMIT Gallery

photograph taken with permission of RMIT Gallery

Objects here include teapots, platters, jewellery and glasses. Many of the pieces are brightly coloured – which isn’t really my thing, but having previously used anodised aluminium I can appreciate the skill and technique in the flawless colouring. But of course the most important techniques are his handskills.

Johannes gave an artist talk on the Friday after the exhibition opening. It could not be held in the gallery surrounded by his exhibition because of the failure of the public address system the night before – so it was in the lecture theatre. That seemed okay to me actually, and it took conversation to places I doubt would have been ventured if the objects were distracting us.

Johannes explained that many of the pieces in this exhibition were sourced from collections, particularly where they were not on regular display. And to see his own work, which of course no longer belonged to him, he needed to make appointments and was no longer able to handle the objects. He mentioned that as he looked at these pieces made in the past, he was reminded of his thoughts and feelings at the time he was making them – something I can relate to.

He also spoke of, and generated quite a lot of discussion and some disagreement to, his views on the education of gold and silversmiths within universities. He spoke of the lack of art history and history of design in universities, and what little existed was driven by trends. And of the reduction in funding constraining what can be provided to students, and there was not enough time for appropriately teaching skills. And questioned if the emphasis on writing, particularly in post-graduate degrees, was not distorting the emphasis of the art: are they good makers or good writers? There were many educators in the audience, and those who spoke were more optimistic about education – which was good, for if our educators are not positive it’s a shame, as they are the ones who can effect change within the institutions.

Johannes Kuhnen: a survey of innovation‘ is at RMIT Gallery until 18th July 2009.

Update (5th July 2009): this exhibition has been rapturously reviewed by Marcus at ArtBlart [here] – “This is a superlative exhibition, one of the highlights of the year so far in Melbourne.

‘Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire’ @ NGV

22 06 2009

On another visit to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to see if the contemporary jewellery exhibit had been updated (not yet, it is still as described here), I unintentionally visited the Salvador Dali blockbuster. I say ‘unintentionally’, for I really didn’t intend to visit on this day, for I expected it to be quite busy given the exhibition had only recently opened and it was a weekend. However, on coming down the escalator I noticed there were only a few people in the line for tickets, so spontaneously joined to go in.


The number of people in the line was misleading – there were quite a few inside the gallery rooms, quite a few indeed. But that’s to be expected given the artist on show.

There is an impressive array of work here, though I came mainly to see the advertised ‘jewellery’. Ten years ago I visited Figueres, his home and museum, so I had seen quite a volume of his art before. The artworks in this exhibition are arranged chronologically, which is important to understanding his development and progression. It is not a surrealist way of showing it though – that would have been more interesting, would the paintings even been on the walls!

From the very first room people shuffled along in order, sidestepping from artwork to artwork, most just staying for a polite time in front of each one, in an awfully oppressive procession. This was a surrealist exhibition, so I decided to visit in a little surrealist fashion – no orderly shuffling for me. I walked around from room to room, piece to piece, in no particular order, staying a little back from the ‘orderly line’ so I was not disturbing anyone and still could see what I wanted (it’s useful being taller than the average gallery-visitor). Going against the traffic was a bit disconcerting for some of the people there – I got a few odd looks when it was noticed I was waltzing the ‘wrong way’ into a room.

Photography was not permitted, so I have looked for images of my most favourite works from this exhibition; also check out The Age site. My highlights are below:

  • Untitled. The first day of spring‘ 1922-23
    this is so fresh (the colours are more vibrant in person) and surprisingly ‘modern’


    from Duvar Paper gallery

    from Duvar Paper gallery

  • Untitled. Gradiva‘ 1938
    simple pen drawing of Gala’s standing naked body (no head), incredibly beautiful
  • Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus‘ 1934
    the paintings in this room were incredibly lit, they seemed internally luminous



    from The Age gallery

    from The Age gallery

  • a study for, and the finished piece, ‘Dematerialization near the nose of Nero
    the painting is not one of my favourites, but seeing it next to the study provides a valuable insight into the artist’s workings
  • the room in which the ‘Renaissance’ period is hung is perfectly moody and impressively designed
  • by this point I was wondering if the claims of jewellery in the exhibition were inflated, then I came upon the jewellery room …and was enormously delighted …

It is a dark little room, with the walls padded in rich red velvet like a jewellery box. The floor had crunchy carpet that added a strange dimension to the experience; elsewhere in the gallery the floors were bare wood, so this choice was deliberate. Dali designed the 11 pieces here, shown in little black velvet-lined glass-fronted boxes recessed into the walls; Alemany & Ertman of New York manufactured them; they are all from the personal collection of Mrs Eleanor Morse from the Salvador Dali Museum in Florida.

When I walked in there was only two or three other people there. I enjoyed the space and quiet and absence of others. I sketched each piece, while there were intermittent tides and waves of other people walking through.



Six of the pendants have a similar format, approximately 4cm round and made in yellow gold, and are all made in 1953. I liked the rough edges of ‘Bleeding World‘, shown below; and how the large topaz obscures the face of ‘Ophelia‘.



from The Age gallery

And a few more highlights after the gorgeousness of the jewellery room:

  • Galatea of the Spheres‘ 1952


    from The Age gallery

    from The Age gallery

  • Annunciation‘ 1956
    I particularly like the description: “… composition consisting of nuclear-mystical details based on a study of the violent motions discovered inside the atom…”
    [it wasn’t easy finding an image, but the best I could do is here]

This exhibition has also been reviewed by Marcus at ArtBlart, and he has some exclusive (and fantastic) images of this exhibition here.

Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire‘ is at NGV until 30th September 2009.