The Anatomy of Ornamenta 1

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This article was originally posted on Userblogs on 4/28/2017.
By Marjan UngerMore from this author

In this article, Marjan Unger describes what Ornamenta 1 means and is all about. It contains information when and how Ornamenta 1 was created and the artists that gave a big hand on its success.

The Anatomy of Ornamenta 1

The number 1, added to "Ornamenta," has a double meaning. It holds the promise that there will be an "Ornamenta" 2, 3 and so on. But it also conveys the idea that Pforzheim is the number 1 city in the world for jewelry design. The spiral, chosen as the logo for this jewelry exhibition, is the visualization of this idea.

The same duality goes for "Ornamenta," a derivate from the Latin verb ornare, and also an obvious paraphrase of "Documenta," a huge art exposition with which another rather small German town, Kassel, brings itself every four or five years successfully to the forefront of the international avant-garde in the fine arts.

Pforzheim, the state of Baden-Württemberg, is a traditional center for the jewelry and watch industry. More than 70 percent of the German export in these fields comes from its surroundings. Even a famous Paris fashionhouse like Dior had its costume jewelry made in Pforzheim. The city houses a design school and the only museum in the world solely devoted to jewelry, the Reuchlinhaus.

Here, between 1967 and 1985, five expositions of modern jewelry were held under the title "Tendenzen." Even in those years the museum showed a strong liking for designs in gold, other precious metals and stones. When the city got a new mayor, Dr. Joachim Becker, one of his foremost ambitions proved to be the filling of the gap in West Germany's prestigious art climate. Although there are several large art expositions, until now there was no comparison in the field of jewelry design.

Anatomy of Ornamenta 1 - Birjit Jürgenssen, Vienna, Austria

I arrived on a beautiful November morning in this rather dull and much-bombed city, with some fellow teachers and a group of students form the jewelry department of Amsterdam's Rietveld Academy. In Holland, the tendency to see jewelry design as a way to express ideas not necessarily connected to the body, to use ephemeral materials to protest against the financial status connected with traditional jewelers and to experiment freely with shapes and materials, has come to a turning point. Artists like Robert Smit, Annelies Planeteydt and Philip Sajet have been using precious metals for some years and Gijs Bakker, for example, places beautiful stones on his new brooches of photo images laminated in plastic. So the idea of launching "Ornamenta 1" now in the gold city seems to us well chosen.

The most eye-catching element of the "Ornamenta 1" was not the work of the 222 participating jewelry designers form 23 countries, but the exhibition installation design by Günter Zamp Kelp, a well-known architect in Germany. The Reuchlinhaus, a very neutral building, was both surrounded and invaded by big, blue columns, in which the exhibits were placed. The concept of the installation might have looked good on paper, but in reality it was too much, especially in the Massic Zentral section.

This section formed the nucleus of the exhibition. Recent work of more than 90 artists was placed in the blue columns. Through a window you could view the interior of only one display at a time. While not a bad idea, the juxtaposition of the work of several artists within one column was often so discordant that the display's advantage was completely lost.

"Ornamenta 1" was the brainchild of Mayor Dr. Becker, Dr. Falk, director of the jewelry museum and Prof. Lorenzen, head of the jewelry department of the design school in Pforzheim. Responsible for the realization of both the exhibition and the catalog were Dr. Michael Erlhoff, Dr. Fritz Falk, Prof. Jenz-Rüdiger Lorenzen and Wilhelm Mattar, with jewelry designer Sabine Strobel acting as manager. To get a grip on the potential of jewelry artists all over the world, a group of advisers was asked to suggest possible participants from their countries. These were Patricia Anderson - Australia, Christophe Burger - France, Sarah Bodine - USA, Angela Carvalho - Brazil, Renzo Hildenbrand - Switzerland, Marie-Josec van den Hout - Holland, Yasuhiko Ogida - Japan, Jan-L. Opstad - Norway, Ramón Puig Cuyas - Spain, Pamela Ritchie - Canada and Ralph Turner - Great Britain.

Steven Fong, Vancouver, Canada, Inside/Outside, shoulder jewelry, copper patinated, 16 x 6 cm

Out of all this insight and suggestions generated on exposition divided in many parts. Besides Massive Zentral was the Ruckblick in die Moderne ab 1960, which included work by leading artists, dating from 1960 to the present from the collection of the jewelry museum. The 100 x 50 x 60 got its title from the measurement of the display cases, in which 26 artists were invited to make an environment for their jewelry, or for jewelry, in general. Unfortunately, most of the contributions were disappointing. Beyond this, many video works were placed more successfully in blue columns in other parts of the building, and especially outside. There was also a small exhibition of designs based on the "Ornamenta" spiral by students from different design schools. Near the café was a gallery annex bookstore, where the innocent visitor was lured to act on his possibly newfound enthusiasm for modern jewelry. One of the most amusing parts of the exhibition was located here. A computer-aided-system was able to take a Polaroid with one of the exhibits in the Massiv Zentral projected on any part of your body.

I still have not mentioned the so-called greatest attraction of the whole exhibition, the Schatzhügel or treasure-dome, a costly structure specially built on the grass in front of the main building. The Schatzhügel was meant to attract the broader public to the exhibition. Here 12 prominent people, like the wife of the president of Baden-Würtemberg, the tennis champion Steffi Graf and the Russian clown Oleg Popov showed their favorite piece of jewelry, made for them by prominent artists.

The organization of "Ornamenta 1" was strongly rooted in local politics and commerce. The organizers saw as their focal point - second only to the question of what fascinates people so much about jewelry - in the role of jewelry as an economic factor, not only for the city of Pforzheim and the region, but also as a German export item for the planned European Common Market. This is the reason why several million German Marks were provided to get "Ornamenta" going. For different reasons, some of them political, a few leading German jewelry artists dissociated themselves from this exhibition, like Hermann Jünger, Otto Künzli, and Gerd Rothmann. However, because their work in the permanent collection of the Pforzheim Jewelry Museum was shown in the Rückblick in Die Moderne, their names do appear on the list of the 222 participants.

All-in-all, "Ornamenta" is a powerful addition to the growing list of exhibitions of contemporary jewelry. The scale is impressive, but, alas, a lot of good work put together with the help of a lot of money does not always do a lot of good for the profession. Only the division into several parts gave a structure to the exhibition.

The overall impression was of a strict organization, with a lot of money and attention given to the installation with little room for the ideas of the participating artists. In comparison to sculpture, for example, jewelry can rather easily been mailed to any place on the world. However, that is no excuse to strip jewelry from its context, its roots. The lack of a broad insight, of showing tendencies and meanings, was especially apparent in the Massiv Zentral, where the contrast between the pieces was so big, it was devastating. Of course, the true believer could find a lot of fine work in the Massiv Zentral.

Recent work of quality, and preferably new work, were the criteria for the selection by the organizers. The national backgrounds of the artists were also considered. Although some of the best West German jewelry artists refused to participate, there was still a strong body of work from West Germany.

Especially good in the use of metals, often in combination with other materials, is the work of Georg Dobler, Martina Döbereiner, Anna Fraling, Beate Gänssle, Daniel Kruger, Rainer Schnepf, Detlef Thomas and Justine Wein. A surprise from West Germany was Patrik Muff. His brooches with traditional German saying as titles are pure punk blended with baroque; silver and gold combines with all sorts of stones and an ivory skull or a bone. The Dutch were also well represented in the Massiv Zentral, about ten participants, varying from a series of well-proportioned silver rings of Onno Boekhoudt to the big, colorfully painted pvc-neckpieces of Beppe Kessler. The work of Esther Knobel from Israel, Kai Chan from Canada, Peter Chang from Scotland, Gry Eide and Tone Vigeland from Norway and Carlier Makigawa was not exactly new, but is always good to see again.

Work from the leading Spanish artist is known by way of the beautiful catalog Joieria Europea Contemporània from 1987, and even exhibitions of Japanese jewelry and body-related work have been held in the Netherlands and other countries in Europe. In Pforzheim, the Japanese work, with the carefully chosen, often subdued use of materials, like the thin bamboo in transparent pvc of Kazuhiro Itoh or the greenish copper in thin paper by Tatsuo Kawaguchi, showed beautiful restraint of form.

There was not much jewelry from France but the voluptuous rings from Henri Gargat were one of the few pleasant surprises in Pforzheim. The same goes for the mushroom necklace by Dorothea Prühl from East Germany, work that made you wonder what more has happened behind the Iron Curtain, the curtain that now is no more. The big paper pieces of Tone Fink from Austria were exceptional in size, but obscure as to meaning. "Ornamenta 1" was accompanied by a substantial catalog. Although the first impression is good - a heavy book with some good articles and all the work of the Massiv Zentral reproduced in color, it lacks the same element as the exhibition itself: no real information about the meanings behind the work, no room for the ideas of the artists themselves, only facts, like date of birth, country, exhibitions, sizes of the work and use of materials.

One last point about the Massiv Zentral. The biggest unknown body of work in "Ornamenta 1," was that from the United States. In Holland we have seen the work of Marjorie Schick and Lisa Gralnick, but I would like to see much more of the work of John Iversen, Robert Ebendorf, Thomas Gentille and Bruce Metcalf, for example. Like all the other participants, they were represented with four to six pieces, and that really is not enough to get a good idea about an artist's ideas or potentials. Conclusion: something should be done about this. One Dutch museum, the Kruithuis, in 's Hertogenbosch, has started the preparations of an exhibition of contemporary jewelry design from the United States.

For me the nicest part of "Ornamenta 1" was the Rückblick in die Moderne. In Holland, in 1987 a bbroad survey of Dutch jewelry design was shown, dating from 1945 to 1987. There was not much to show from the 40s, for obvious reasons, and not much from the 50s either. The Rückblick in die Moderne thus covered about the same period, the 60s, 70s and 80s, but you cannot imagine a more different approach.

The Jewelry Museum in Pforzheim has never wavered from its policy to buy and show "real" jewelry, that is, precious metals and stones, whatever else happened in the field. You can criticize them for that, and see "Ornamenta" as a coup to catch up with other aspects of jewelry design. On the other hand, you can be grateful. Where else can you see such a lot of more or less precious pieces from leading figures like the two great German teachers, Hermann Jünger and Friedrich Becker, or from the illustrious Italians, like Giampaolo Babetto, Francesco Pavan and Arnoldo Pomodoro.

This revealing view of the last three decades makes you wonder if your own background can be a burden when you visit an exhibition like "Ornamenta 1." Surely, it is difficult to imagine how the broader public benefits from such a wide confrontation with modern jewelry design.

The Jewelry Museum in Pforzheim was also able to show some very good pieces of jewelry by famous painters or sculptors, like Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Hans Arp, Man Ray, Niki de Saint Phalle and Arman. They didn't show pieces by Baroque and Calder. Those relatively few pieces of Ernst, Man Ray and the others made clear that fine artists can make beautiful jewelry, strong pieces that are related to their fine art and are, all the same, wearable items that betray a point of view on jewelry. These works, however, don't open the way to declare jewelry design to be a fine art. Despite the obvious comparison with "Documenta," "Ornamenta 1" was nothing more or less than a celebration of jewelry.

The 25 showcases 100 x 50 x 60 could have been the means to draw jewelry in a broader context and to bridge the gap to sculpture and even architecture. Despite the good reputations of most of the participants, this part of the exhibition formed a most disappointing experience. A dark room, with a lot of cases that didn't show! The ideas of the artist worked much better in the catalog, where the installations are shown in parts or in a much wider context than 100 x 50 x 60.

Even more disappointing was the Schatzhügel. One of the inherent values of jewelry design is its relation to the human body, and even more specifically to a personality. With the growing amount of jewelry exhibitions, jewelry is regarded more and more as objects independent of a human framework. On paper the Schatzhügel must have looked like a good vehicle to overcome the impersonality of jewelry presentations. But in the specially build dome, all you found was a peepshow with an indifferent display of very different objects. The main criticism is, however, that there was almost no communication between the artist and the "famous" people they were coupled with. Steffi Graf didn't even try on the sturdy leather jacket covered with brooches by Robert Lee Morris from the United States.

Ruudt Peters, from Holland, who made an object called Prometheus for Philip Rosenthal, from the ceramics industry of the same name, commented on his work: "I want to say nothing about Mr. Rosenthal because I have not gotten to know him personally, so I can't say anything. I think the work I made for him speaks for itself." Although Ruudt Peters tried very hard to get in contact with Mr. Rosenthal, he was only allowed a 10-minute telephone call, which was hardly worthwhile. Esther Knobel from Israel made the right choice to see mountaineering as a metaphor in her piece for Reinhold Messner. May be the same metaphoric approach is behind the strong Torus neckpiece by British jewelry David Watkins for Boris Becker. Gijs Bakker, very cleverly convinced the organizers of "Ornamenta 1" to make a brooch for Hans van Manen, a Dutch choreographer and photographer. His piece, and the object of Patrik Muff for the actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, showed a personal element that worked.

During our stay in Pforzheim we visited the big jewelry department of the Pforzheim Design School. It is much better equipped than the Rietveld Academy, with a lot of students from other countries, just as in Amsterdam. Jewelry students apparently do travel. We also went to the nearest big town, Stuttgart, to see the still new extension of the Staatsgallerie, designed by the English architect James Stirling. On our way home, we could have stopped in almost every major German town to see a good modern art collection, to see some adventurous new architecture and a specialized museum.

Is such a rich cultural climate, putting new emphasis on contemporary jewelry design is worthwhile. However difficult all that prestige involved is to swallow, the initiative of the city of Pforzheim deserves support. The outcome of the first "Ornamenta" has given both visitors and organizers much to consider. In my opinion, and those of the jewelry artists to whom I spoke, for the next "Ornamenta" there can be much more exchange of ideas between organizers and participants - maybe fewer individual pieces next time, and more room for each piece, and above all, more room for a relevant context.

The History of the Jewelry Museum at Pforzheim

The City of Pforzheim, as the German industrial center of jewelrs, clocks and watches, is more than any other place predestined to be the site of a special museum, which is the only institution of this kind in the world devoted to demonstrating the history of jewels with due regard to the occidental cultural civilizations.

Thousands of original pieces of jewelry covering a period of more than four-thousand years, from pre-European beginnings to the present, demonstrate a range of artistic and art-handicraft activity which, like no other activity, has an inseparable and personal relation to the human being.

The Jewelry Museum of Pforzheim belongs to the cultural center Reuchlinhaus, which was built in 1961 according to the plans of Manfred Lehmbruck and which bears the name of Pforzheim's favored son, the humanist Johannes Reuchlin (1445-1522).

The basic tenets of the Jewelry Museum at Pforzheim trace back to the collective activities of the Art and Art-Handicraft Association of Pforzheim and Grand-Ducal Art-and-Crafts School of Baden, today called the Technical College of Design, both of which were founded during the second half of the 19th century. After a short hiatus between the years of 1938 and 1941, the Jewelry Museum was re-established in 1961 under the Municipality of Pforzheim.

Beside its continuing goal of completing and supplementing its collection, the Jewelry Museum at Pforzheim has the essential task of organizing four or five special exhibitions each year. These exhibitions are dedicated to jewelry subjects from the historical, ethnological and modern points of view.

By means of these exhibitions, the Jewelry Museum at Pforzheim serves as "Ambassador of the City of Jewels" in many countries of the world: the Museum has already presented its collection in England, Holland, Belgium, Israel, Czechoslovakia, Japan and Australia.

The Jewelry Museum is supported by the "International Society of the Friends of the Jewellry Museum at Pforzheim," founded in 1977. This society has members in 18 countries all over the world.

* Press information supplied by "Ornamenta 1."

Structure of the Exhibit

The theme and task of "Ornamenta 1" at first seem to be in conflict. The intimacy of artistically and technically valuable miniatures stands in contrast to the conceptual openness of a "World's Fair" of jewelry. In this case, the need for spatial intimacy as prerequisite for the presentation of jewelry requires an element which transcends existing boundaries. The structural framework for the exhibit grew out of these considerations and the limitations of the space available. And so there are 80 segments in which various forms of jewelry are presented in different manners. These segments are divided into six to ten types, and in material and optical appearance are so designed as to create the impression of a formal and functional relationship. The segments are arranged according to emphasis throughout the building and at times seem to pervade the existing structure of the Reuchlinhaus. Some are situated in front, near the entrance area, still others grace the open spaces facing the Nagold river.

The structural homogeneity of the various segments gives birth to the generous framework for a concept that at first glance seems to cheerfully disregard the designated premises thereby fulfilling the requirement of a cosmopolitan outlook.

* Günter Zamp Kelp (Haus-Rucker) was the architect of "Ornamenta 1" and has previously participated in "Documenta."

Scope of the Exhibition

The exhibition is laid out in several sections. The "Museum" presents a historical review of contemporary jewelry, from 1960 to the present. This section contains material from the Jewelry Museum in Pforzheim as well as material borrowed from other collections. The "Massiv Zentral," the center point of the exhibition, displays individual jewelry pieces. Works from over 100 jewelers from 18 different countries is shown. Under the title "100x50x60," 25 jewelers, artists and architects have put on their own installations in 25 separate showcases. A video section further develops the theme of ornamentation by showing videos of different forms of "bejeweling," the techniques of jewelrymaking, examining the creation of jewelry designs and exploring the role that video-art can play in jewelry. This section also serves as a forum for the exhibition visitors to explore with the assistance of electronics the world of ornamentation. In front of the Reuchlinhaus is the "Schatzhugel," the "Treasure Mound." In it will be displayed the favorite object of well-known persons. On display with those are also pieces of contemporary jewelry, specifically commissioned for them by "Ornamenta."

"Ornamenta 1", through activities, jewelry displays and photography, examines the concepts of ornamentation. There is at the same time a program of workshops, jewelry fashion shows and performances.

"Ornamenta I" has been organized and managed by Sabine Strobel. The "Ornamenta" Art Committee was established to plan and oversee the concept of the exhibition. They selected the participants of the show with the assistance of 11 international advisors.

* Information taken from the "Ornamenta 1" tourist brochure.

American Participants

  • Jamie Bennett
  • Catherine Butler
  • James Lee Byars
  • Robert Ebendorf
  • Eva Eisler
  • Ed Emshwiller
  • Susan Ewing
  • Arline Fisch
  • Thomas Gentille
  • Lisa Gralnick
  • John Iversen
  • Stanley Lechtzin
  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • Bruce Metcalf
  • Robert Lee Morris
  • Alicia Nogueira
  • Hiroko and Gene Pijanowski
  • Man Ray
  • Majorie Schick
  • Michael Tomlinson
  • Joe Wood

Marjan Unger, who lives in Bussum, near Amsterdam, is an art historian, specializing in 20th-century design (fashion, jewelry, ceramics, graphic design and industrial design), and a lecturer at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. For nine years she has been editor of a Dutch design magazine, as well as a magazine writer and exhibition organizer.

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By Marjan Unger
Metalsmith Magazine – 1990 Spring
In association with SNAG‘s
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.

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Marjan Unger

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