Since the irreverent Duchamp’s Roue de bicyclette (1913), the research of contemporary has begun to focus on questioning the foundations of the artistic concept. The issues involved are above all the meaning of the masterpiece, its definition, its destination, the logic of the market it is subject to and the institutional spaces that legitimise it.
By painting the moustache at Gioconda, Duchamp interrogated his audience about the drama of the “icon”, just as, by signing his models, Manzoni posed the problem of the artist’s authorship and how it defines the value of an object that automatically rises to “artwork”.
When contemporary research invests the realm of decoration, the artist can hardly ignore these questions.
The sumptuous world of jewellery is linked to the notions of wealth, luxury, seduction, fashion, social membership. Artists like Karin Seufert, Philip Sajet, Karl Fritsch, play on the overthrow of preconceived canons, on the ambiguity of their works and the disorientation of the viewer. All of them have been guests of Preziosa, where they exposed works that highlight the internal contradictions of the rich world of ornamentation.
Karin Seufert analyses the statement hidden behind wearing a precious jewel. Human desire is connected to the appropriation of symbols that declare his belonging to an elite group. Sportive brands, like Puma, Nike or Adidas, reflect on a more commercial present the same intention which motivates the purchase of a Cartier panther. The historical sacredness of an onyx cameo, the outcome of the engraving skills, is lost in the incongruous use of PVC, an industrial material easy to work.
Another “visual contradiction”, as a metaphor for the destructive human ambition, is produced by Karl Fritsch‘s jewellery. Like Babel towers, ostentatious acts of pride, his rings defy the laws of physics, stacking real or fake gems, which seem to be about to collapse under their own weight. Diamonds and rubies are mixed with plastic pearls and glass gems, tricking the wearer and ridiculing him. The notion of beauty and precious are so carried to the extreme, to the point when they become unsightly and almost grotesque. That desecrating and demystifying attitude is not so far from the famous Déjeuner en fourrure by Meret Oppenheim, who in 1936 covered a little cup, its saucer and spoon, symbols of the bourgeois salons of Paris, by luxurious fur, creating a bewildering reaction in the spectator.
Even Philip Sajet plays on the duality of what we see and what it really is: its jewels are sometimes worthless copies of the famous ones and seem to console the impossible desire to possess them. Like Fritsch, Sajet combines pearls and corals with synthetic stones or glass, making us reflect on the cost of human exploitation for the finding of the gems, of which we are complicit when we buy expensive jewellery. Its rough and pointed stones, like daggers, lay bare the violence of a conniving society, greedy for what is valuable.
But what is the “value” when it comes to contemporary jewellery?
The glass stones by Sajet and Fritsch, as the Seufert’s PVC, assume worth in the issues that their creations open. Just like the Oppenheim’s fur cup, they illuminate a sad reality that exploits for its enrichment the weaknesses and contradictions of the human being. The traditional rules on which the jewel-object is founded, like its mounting, the cutting of the stone, its refined execution, undergo a reversal, a disruption. These artists rely on their own need to go beyond their certainties and convictions about jewellery, to probe an insidious field such as the embellishment of one’s person and the desire for possession.