Munich is the centre of the art jewellery world. Visitors from Munich made New Zealand part of this international scene, in which it now plays a key role. Does the search for international fame involve an abandonment of provincial identity? Or is it possible that we see ourselves more clearly from a distance?
by Kevin Murray
Hermann Jünger in New Zealand
German goldsmith Hermann Jünger can be considered the godparent of art jewellery. After the devastation of World War 2, Germany found a way to make the world beautiful again - in miniature. In 1972, Jünger became professor of goldsmithing at the Academy of Creative Arts Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, which allowed him to foster the development of a new art form that transformed the goldsmith from a technician to an artist. Jünger himself had made the foundational move in the critique of preciousness, which opened up the non-monetary value of jewellery. Jünger's unique artistic sensibility revealed the painterly quality of gold as a material in itself, allowing for its irregularity.
In 1982, Jünger was invited by one of his ex-students, Hendrik Forster, to give workshops in the rapidly developing Australian scene. Local jeweller Gillian Snadden found support through the QEII Arts Council and Goethe Institute to bring Junger to Nelson where he gave a workshop. There was no national association at the time, so it was one of the first events when New Zealand jewellery artists had the chance to meet each other. The focus of the workshop was the circle:
"When we give new relationships to these values, when we discover that shades of change can bring about strong, expressive results, that, for all the simplicity of form, there is enough scope for a completely personal expression, that there will and can always be other, new circles."
This mysteriously simple task was the kernel that would go on to inspire key local artists. This formalist teaching method involves the use of a basic shape as an organising principle to connect disparate elements. It helped foster individual artistic expression in a spontaneous and coherent manner.
Jünger’s visit blazed what was to become an increasingly popular path between New Zealand the centre of the jewellery world in Munich.
A rich exchange followed. In 1990, the year before he replaced Junger as Professor of the Munich Academy, his star student Otto Künzli was invited to Australia by Helge Larson, head of the new jewellery department in Sydney College of the Arts. The NZ wing was organised by Kobi Bosshard and involved a two-week workshop at his Fluxus workshop in Dunedin. Künzli also gave participants a set number of tasks, though they included emphasis on the personal dimension of jewellery, such as making “a special gift for a special person”. Künzli returned, including talks and workshops in 2003, 2014 and 2018, where he gave the keynote for a jewellery conference at the Dowse Museum.
There was much traffic in the other direction. Closer at hand, Melbourne's Gallery Funaki was established in 1995 and featured exhibitions by Künzli and his students. Over time increasingly numbers of New Zealanders made a pilgrimage to the Munich academy in their European travels. Some enrolled as students.
In 1995, Lisa Walker arrived in Munich with an artistic practice that drew inspiration from nature. In Munich, she began experimenting with new materials that are usually beyond the pale in gold and silversmithing, such as the glue gun. Taking NZ mussel shells from a local restaurant, she covered them with cheap and gaudy decorations, in defiance of the piety towards materials back home. Ironically, the experience gave Lisa Walker freedom to express a NZ identity she wasn’t able to at home.
Success in Munich wasn’t about leaving NZ behind. In 2009, one of Künzli's star students Karl Fritsch returned with Lisa Walker to relocate in Wellington, where they now have a flourishing practice. Fritsch is a key figure in the art jewellery world, notable for a freedom of imagination that he applies to the enduring classics of goldsmithing. As a New Zealand resident, he plays an active role locally, such as co-curating the Wunderrūma (2014) exhibition with Warwick Freeman, which took New Zealand artists to Munich. Wünderrumer reflected a particular rural NZ sensibility about folk practices such as fishing. The exotic context appealed to Munich tastes. CNZ played an important role in funding many other exhibitions of NZ work in Munich, such as Objectspace's Iwa: New Zealand Makers, Contemporary Jewellery from Aotearoa (2018) curated by Peter Deckers.
While there is fear of a homogeneous international style, appeal to a global audience can also lead to the accentuation of national identity, as a way to claim attention beyond the colonial shadow. But the traffic is now two way: Aotearoa today acts as an important destination and offers a distinct voice in the expanding art jewellery world, offering a sense of place that is otherwise missing in the Munich scene.
Header image: Hermann Jünger, brooch, gold, silver, ivory. Germany, 2002. Te Papa, all rights reserved.