So, Ai Weiwei is going to have a jewellery exhibition in London starting now in November called Rebar in gold. For a maker of art jewellery like myself this seems a trifle weird. Why should Ai Weiwei all of a sudden decide to make jewellery? Was it his intention to create wearable art pieces, which are of equal artistic value to his other work? Or are these jewellery pieces merely some kind of promotional items/ a commercial gimmick for him?
The gallery Elisabetta Cipriani (subtitled: Jewellery by Artists), which will be hosting this exhibition, is actually specialised in jewellery of (well-known) artists, who normally work in other fields. I even found Erwin Wurm amongst them, an artist I really like.
Looking closer into this, you can find surprisingly lots of examples of famous contemporary artists of other mediums, who have dabbled in jewellery. To name but a few: Damien Hirst made a charm bracelet with pills in silver, Jeff Koons collaborated with fashion designer Stella McCartney to bring out platinum rabbit pendants and Anish Kapoor creates whole collections of cufflinks, rings and pendants, which I found represented in a another gallery subtitled just like the former.
So should I be happy about the fact that these art-world superstars bring attention to jewellery? The question is what message they convey with their jewellery work…
There are definitely better and worse pieces from these artists who make an excursion into jewellery. Koons’ bunny is actually still pretty cool in a small version, but at this scale the balloon effect is missing and so compared to the rabbit sculpture, I cannot see the bunny pendant as anything more than a very exclusive souvenir. In the big picture I must say, that I am not convinced by the majority of this “jewellery by artists”. More than that, I think artists are harming the art jewellery field when they make e.g. miniature copies of their usual works in precious metal and add a few stones to it.
The Cucumber necklace, brooch and ring of Erwin Wurm are a good example of this. I really like his installation Selbstporträt als Essiggurkerl (Self-portrait as a pickled cucumber), it is funny, cheeky and nonconformist. In my eyes, the Cucumber jewellery, on the other hand, is a poor version of his icon; cast in silver and decorated with sapphires. Where has the humour gone? Or the free spirit? Why does he use precious metals and stones, when these materials don´t fit to his expressive language? It seems that Erwin Wurm doesn’t know that contemporary jewellery can be funny, cheeky and nonconformist too.
The problem is; these artists make people believe that this is what art jewellery needs to look like, whether the artist himself/herself values it as part of their artwork or not. It only makes sense that if these great artists created them, then these pieces of jewellery must be art too. And if the viewers then encounter pieces of art jewellery from makers who dedicate their lives to this field, they will probably not be able to appreciate it, and that´s a shame. If these artists put as much thought and heart into their jewellery as they do with their other projects, the art jewellery world could gain a lot from that because we don’t have these kind of superstars who can reach the masses.
It is always problematic if an artist switches to a medium in which he/she is not fluent, but then equally promotes it as art. I like to draw for instance, but I am surely not thinking of showing my drawings in a gallery at this point. Just because I am an artist, it doesn’t mean that everything I do needs to be out there for sale. Of course artists should change to other mediums if they want to, provided that they invest in this medium in an equally profound manner.
Cartoon: Original version by The Daily English Show
Text edit: Hayley Grafflin