In case you haven’t noticed, contemporary New Zealand jewellery is sensational. I don’t mean Michael Hill’s diamond rings; I mean jewellery made by contemporary jewellers. And right now, contemporary jewellery is going off (to use a surf metaphor).
This is evident in our own city, with two galleries devoted to jewellery — Avid and Quoil — both of which show work by jewellers from around the country. Bowen Gallery and Hamish McKay Gallery also represent a couple of contemporary jewellers. Then there’s The National in Christchurch and Fingers in Auckland.
The Whitireia jewellery course, along with a handful of similar courses in other centres, is producing some interesting jewellers. Peter Deckers, who leads the course, has recently initiated the second round of Handshake — a mentoring programme in which 12 emerging jewellers get to work with a mentor of their choice. The exciting news for them is that a good number of the rock stars of the contemporary jewellery world have agreed to be involved.
Last year, the 12 jewellers of the first Handshake project were invited to exhibit at the world’s most prominent jewellery symposium, Schmuck, in Munich. This year, New Zealand was again represented at Schmuck, this time with the exhibition Wunderruma. Wolfgang Lösche, the director of Galerie Handwerk in Munich, invited Warwick Freeman and Karl Fritsch, an expat German now resident in New Zealand, to curate the exhibition, which features the work of 75 New Zealand jewellers.
Karl and Warwick visited studios, galleries and museums across New Zealand and along the way talked to jewellers. The resulting exhibition, supported and toured to Munich by the Dowse Art Museum, offers a snapshot of New Zealand jewellery now — and the two jewellers’ sense of where it has come from.
Karl and Warwick chose works based on their own views about New Zealand jewellery and avoided including representative or signature works. But they did include pieces by a couple of well-known New Zealand artists not usually thought of as jewellers, along with a selection of taonga and historical works. As Dowse director Courtney Johnston says in the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, “we have been greeted by both old friends and surprising inclusions”. The curators’ approach has been controversial within the jewellery community but it makes for an interesting show nonetheless.
You can make your own assessment of their choices when you visit the exhibition at the Dowse, where it’s currently on show (21 June to 28 September). Since the directorship of James Mack in the early 1990s, the Dowse has been one of the few national institutions to collect contemporary jewellery with any seriousness, and as Courtney also says in the catalogue foreword, it “feels like the natural home for a project of this scope and significance”.[info]
Currently at the Adam Art Gallery (27 May to 21 September) is an exhibition called What is a life?, which surveys the works of Dunedin artist Kim Pieters. Kim is regularly seen in Wellington with exhibitions at the Bowen Gallery and is best known for her delicate abstract paintings. She is also a musician and vocalist, and has been involved in the experimental music scene in Dunedin since moving there in 1993. She has played in various ensembles whose performances have often included her moving-image projections. This exhibition brings together all the facets of Kim’s practice, includes drawings, photographs, sculptures and moving-image soundscapes.[/info]