Metalsmith ’90 Winter: Exhibition Reviews

This article showcases various exhibitions in the form of collected exhibition reviews published in the 1990 Winter issue of the Metalsmith Magazine. This features Kiff Slemmons, Kate Wagle, Seung Hee Kim, Deganit Schocken, and more!

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Kiff Slemmons: Hands of the Heroes
CDK Gallery, New York
June 6 – July, 1989
by Antonia Schwed

Glancing at this array of flat hands, mostly in a size range of 3¼” x 2½”, I was taken aback by the apparent similarity of the pieces. A closer study shows, however, that there is really a great deal of imaginative variety in the decoration and execution of each hand. In any series – and a series certainly seems to be a good way to get a point across – repetition is obviously a danger. In Slemmons’s cases, the basic shape for each pin is a palm-up hand, neither realistic nor surreal but somewhere in-between – perhaps stylized is the most descriptive word. But Slemmons has given herself a good springboard for creativity by having each hand named for somebody famous, such as Houdini, Don Quixote, Emily Dickinson, Martin Luther King, Jacques Cousteau, Madame Curie, Osip Mandelstam, Marcel Proust.

Kiff Slemmons - Don Quixote from "Hands of the Heros" series
Don Quixote from “Hands of the Heros” series, sterling silver, copper, leather

The basic material used is silver, but there is clever use of other media – for example, the Martin Luther King is made of ebony and mastodon ivory. Slemmons also enriches her work with subtle amounts of aluminum, plexiglass, formica, slate and brass, as well as various found objects. For instance, the Carl Jung hand is carved with mysterious engravings and has a little stone pre-Columbian figure embedded in it. The Cousteau hand as an extremely small collage consisting of tiny shells, a silver octopus and a minute Coca Cola bottle; the overall surface of the hand is engraved with sea forms. In the Don Quixote hand, in addition to the leather and copper adornment, the fingers are armour-plated and articulated. There is a tiny, enameled watch-face, among other symbols, in the Emily Dickinson hand (Slemmons uses enameled watch faces in two other hands); there are minute architectural symbols for Frank Lloyd Wright and a pattern of dancers’ feet across the Fred Astaire hand.

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In fact, the exhibit made me think a bit about the significance of the human hand in general: the raised right hand of Buddha, the hand of Fatima, the reaching hands in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” Durer’s Praying Hands, to say nothing of holding hands, shaking hands, waving goodbye hands, saluting hands, beckoning hands and so on!

Slemmons’s work is highly skillful and beautifully done, and, considering the rather confining framework of the series, it is surprisingly interesting. With her symbolic embellishments of the hands, Slemmons gives an intriguing interpretation of each personality.

Antonia Schwed is an enamelist living in New York.

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Kate Wagle: More Drawings of Roses
Faith Nightengale Gallery, San Diego, CA
April 14 – June 4, 1989
by Carolyn Novin

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Roman de la Rose, a 13th-century bestseller, featured a quest for the ideal lady. So, too, the centerpiece of Kate Wagle’s show was Tea Rose, a delightful, small bud-and leaf sculpture of sterling silver cones spirals and sheet. The show’s brooches were also derived from a rose, isolated, rotated fragments that further enhanced the theme of the flower’s loaded symbolism.

For example, Northern Garden #4 joined a “fabric–ated” sterling silver flower to a columnar stem, thereby contrasting an organic object with an architectural construction, a wary dichotomy echoed in the barbed stems of Thorns # 1 and #2. One may get a thorn prick when one romances the rose.

Northern Garden 4 brooch, sterling silver, 7 x 1½ x ¼”

Wagle has often used floral imagery to depict opposites; her 1985 Bridal Bouquet #2, a bundle of nervous energy, suggested ambivalent nuptials, while Edged Corsage and The Whitest Corsage, 1986, dealt more with sexual tension, as bladelike leaf pierced circular flower.

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In this show, the rosebud had been refined to unite triangle, coil and flange. It was realistic enough to evoke the romantic and ceremonial associations of roses, abstract enough to look contemporary and large enough to be dramatic. While keeping the outline simple and the craftsmanship refined, Wagle successfully varied interior proportions and surface detail to unveil multiple ideas about artificiality.

Equinox 6 (More Drawings of Roses), sterling silver, 4½ x 1 x ¼”

Equinox 6, in its burnished brilliance and brash shape, counterposed natural to artificial and soft to hard, as it replicated a living thing in textured sterling silver to look like a woven fabric. In contrast, the scalloped edge and oxidation shading on Equinox 2 created the illusion of plushness, more volume than its design actually contained. Chemical patination, in large-to-fine-grain splatters, made other Equinox buds look sundappled, mottled with decay or gemlike, in vivid blue, green, brown and violet. These were highlighted by copper edges.

In Straus’s opera Der Rosenkavalier, Octavian’s presentation of a silver rose to Sophie precipitated a realignment of lovers that dramatically exposed human reactions to love, rejection, youth and aging. Similarly, Kate Wagle’s jewelry provoked a fresh look at the flower’s ability to consummate relationships.

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Carolyn Novin is a metalsmith and writer living in Los Angeles.

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Seung Hee Kim
Plum Gallery, Kinsington, MD
by Gretchen Raber

Seung Hee Kim’s simple, abstract forms combine the geometry of household objects and linear patterns of reeds. The best of the work, brooch tableaux, inject a cultural spiritualism by enshrining miniaturized and abstracted mixing bowls.

In a purely visceral sense, they are marvelously amusing as quick, dynamic studies or interpretations of drawings. There is an assured draftsmanship in the power of line, both as intaglio and as wire. The flattened and foreshortened vessels are bas-relief volumes, emerging from framed space. They break the frontal plane as a cubist painter might visually punch out perspective. The ubiquitous linear brass sticks are used as balancing agents to add dynamic direction.

Brooch, sterling silver, 2 x 2″

Unfortunately, this work was technically inconsistent with the tightly controlled forms, having glued parts that oozed at the edges. It carried over into the esthetic when several pieces had unintegrated and visually disruptive commercial findings, which detracted from the designed part of the jewelry. This was all the more jarring because it contradicted the visual serenity and balance of the exhibit.

Brooch, sterling silver, 14k gold, pure gold foil, 2 x 2″

Kim is, nevertheless, a master of the metal surface. The trompe-l’oeil surfaces are pleasantly seductive because they transform the rigid metal to a more weightless and paperlike quality. Whether patina is used to color and soften or printing to animate, the metal is constantly metamorphosed.

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Rae Kyung Park from the National Museum of Modern Art in Seoul, Korea, describes Kim’s work as presenting characteristics “of the material itself in its relatively unadulterated state and in doing so heightens the effects of surface texture and patination of the work.

Brooch, sterling silver, copper, 1¾ x 1¾”

Seung Hee Kim’s approach to her work is concurrent with the tendency in contemporary art for the search for the origin of the physical properties of the material…(T)he numerous techniques accumulated over the years have been applied to create her poetic expressions of sensitivity through metals…”

Gretchen Raber is a goldsmith living in Alexandria, VA.

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Deganit Schocken
Helen Drutt Gallery, New York
May 4 – 27, 1989
by Eva Eisler

Deganit Schocken’s work is strongly influenced by her architectural background. She lives in Israel, surrounded by a multitude of architectural styles, from the most ancient to the most modern. Consequently, it is not surprising that Schocken expresses structure and space in her work. Movement in an environment is her underlying theme. The jewelry, whose structure requires skillful, highly inventive and intelligent engineering, appears to be studies for larger sculptures or for some kind of constantly changing set design. The body is seen as the site or vehicle for these studies.

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Brooch, silver, ivory, 4¼ x 1½”, 1988
Photo: George Erml, courtesy: Helen Drutt Gallery

Schocken’s brooches have a three-dimensional frame of linear and/or curved elements surrounding a symbol-filled “interior,” which derives its forms both from nature and from man-made environments, i.e., tree, bird or house symbols. These abstract symbols are given further layers of meaning by their frequent representation as negative cutouts that reappear as positive images elsewhere. The assemblies are connected directly to the outer frame by hinges, although, in some cases, a secondary interior structure that extends to and through the external frame is used.

Schocken has perfected a number of ingenious mechanical devices that permit the movement of individual parts in harmony with the movement of the body. These details also make it possible for the pieces to be reassembled or transformed.

The pins and spirals used for fastening the piece of jewelry to a fabric are an integral part of the design. Apart from traditional materials, gold and silver, Schocken incorporates abstract elements made from ivory, wood, porcelain or stone. These pieces, tooled with a jeweler’s precision, give a certain mass to her otherwise transparent, almost graphic brooches.

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Brooch, silver, nickel, steel, 1988
Photo: George Erml, courtesy: Helen Drutt Gallery

The necklaces can also be adjusted or modified. The precise, silver chains function mechanically, like mountain climbing ropes, where the pulleys assume an abstract symbolic role. Necklaces can be worn across the body and extended to the back, held in position by spirals turned into the fabric.

Although the physical scale of Schocken’s work is coordinated with human proportions, it projects a larger concept of architectural influence.

Eva Eisler is an artist living in New York, who works in contemporary jewelry and sculpture.

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Susan Fortune, Patricia Woods
Appalachian Center for the Crafts, Smithville, TN
March, 1989
by Klaus Kallenberger

Susan Fortune, originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, is now teaching design and visual studies at the Appalachian Center for the Crafts. Her training was completed in 1971 at the City of London Polytechnic with a major in jewelry. Her work is characterized by a consistently strong sense of design and the thorough craftsmanship one expects of a master goldsmith.

Susan Fortune, Zebra Series #2, earrings, sterling silver, fabricated, polished and sandblasted, each 2⅝ x 1″

Sterling necklaces, earrings and pins are enriched with details in copper and etched or chased surfaces. In many pieces, leathers and hinge mechanisms are well integrated. The pins all have individually designed and hand-fabricated pinback sets, and earrings have fabricated backs. Each piece would be easily wearable and well suited for many occasions, but the earrings are large and would require a strong earlobe. The visual vocabulary shows a soft technological imagery, cleanly crafted with much attention to detail. The reverse sides are as well finished as the fronts of each piece.

Patricia Woods, presently on a Fulbright teaching exchange replacing Bob Coogan, the jewelry master at the Craft Center, is also from Britain. Her degree is from Loughborough College of Art and Design in metalsmithing. She teaches metals at South Devon College of Art, England. Her work is in marked contrast to Fortune’s in that it reflects a preoccupation with color, the mysterious and the ceremonial.

Patricia Woods, Waterfall, raised copper bowl with silver, etched with purple luster patination, 10″ d.

Several vessel forms raised in copper are patinated. One is ornamented with brightly lacquered, woven-copper wire. She also displays a variety of jewelry such as bola tie, a massive decorative belt, crocheted copper-wire bracelets, earrings, pins and a necklace. Attention to traditional craftsmanship is replaced with a rustic, more immediate approach to object completion. Color, texture, shape and spirit are the primary concerns of this goldsmith.

Klaus Kallenberger is a professor of art at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN.

By Metalsmith Magazine
Metalsmith Magazine - 1990 Winter
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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