Jokers and Alchemists

These are the works of two artists who were once teacher and pupil, both having left their neutral oasis in the middle of Europe to arrive in different eras at the famous Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. There are many stories to tell about their journey, but what we have to work with in this book are three objects produced two Swiss artists of different generations, using a classic material: Gold. 

Why would an artist want gold to disappear? After centuries of trying to make gold out of everything from lead to blood, and when they finally are in the comfortable and secure position of having some gold to use, why make this precious material vanish from sight, through concealment and disguise?  Is this a Swiss joke? 

Otto Künzli’s title, “Gold Makes Blind” is key to deciphering this mystery. Gold is a loaded material that influences all opinion. We cannot be neutral when it comes to gold; it makes us blind, sways our opinion, so hide it in a slick black circle and seek freedom. But the mysterious bump belies the apparently innocent snake. The gold is there, the perfectly crafted sphere, back in the darkness where it came from, but why?

After years of preoccupation with themes such as “How can I prevent jewellery from being worn”, David Bielander returned to jewellery. An odyssey of experimentation followed, and then an object appeared fit for a joker king, touch alone slides the veil aside to reveal the reality of the piece through its weight; a carefully hand constructed golden crown disguised as stapled cardboard. Between the bracelet and the crown Otto’s thumbtack functions to underline how meaning collects in an object through materiality and intention, a thumb-tack-Art-attack-brooch.  

It would appear that these works are born out of a need. They are certainly a reaction against convention, against the gold=money=power equation, but also against the dogmas of a rigorous gold smithing training that left little room for questions: What is Jewellery? What can it be? What can it mean? Through creating these works the artists have wrestled out a freedom with out relinquishing their skills, their intimate understanding of this material, instead turning this around to forge a new space with room for enquiry. Philosophical and stoic alchemists, they attempt to refine and purify the ideas in their field from base subject matter. But there is something else as well. Reoccurring often in Swiss Art,  Merit Oppenheim, Pipilotti Rist, Fischli and Weiss, Künzli and Bielander connect through their pleasure in the absurd. They are Jokers and Alchemists, alloyed in equal quantities.

These works have been intentionally created to contribute to a dialogue within the niche field of Contemporary Art Jewellery and to the conversation about materiality in contemporary Art. Together in this vitrine they are now a triptych, carefully curated, intentionally placed side by side, to build a useful story. This tale will twist and morph, like all stories about objects as time and space accumulates between their inception and their location, as they spin their way through different epochs, carried along by waves of collecting and gifting. Is this their final location? What of this story will be told centuries from now?  These rare contradictions, earnest and humorous, created by cleaver, skilled artists. The works have autonomy now, the joker alchemists having insured that relevance moves beyond the specificity of production, the personal dialogue, the inside joke. They have created meaning, contributed to the possibilities of working with an ancient, fraught material and left the results to humanity as testimonies of the value of artistic freedom and enquiry.

Helen Britton 2019 Published in “Jewellery Stories” 2021 Museum of Art and Design New York, Arnoldsche ISBN 978 389790 602 0