Yvonne Montoya is the executive director at Art Jewelry Forum. She holds a MFA in visual art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BA in Art History/Criticism from the University of California, San Diego.
In March, Art Jewelry Forum members attended the most celebrated jewelry event in the world, Munich Jewellery Week (MJW). Yvonne Montoya, AJF’s executive director, reports.
I arrived on Tuesday morning, March 12, two days early, to prepare for the upcoming AJF events. I’ve been reading and hearing about Munich Jewellery Week since my university days, and I was looking forward to a week of incredible art.
I reached Galerie Handwerk, where the AJF panel discussions would take place, and got an early peek at the gallery’s exhibition for MJW, the show 21 Grams, sponsored by the China Academy of Art Hangzhou. The title refers to the weight of the soul, and the Dutch jewelry designer Ruudt Peters curated the exhibition.
On Wednesday, March 13, I set out early to visit the Fairground Munich, located on the outskirts of town. This is where the largest contemporary jewelry exhibition takes place and it’s known for bringing ground-breaking works of art from all over the world. I was scheduled to meet the important American gallerist, curator, and collector, Helen Drutt.
I was excited about this meeting because of Helen’s huge impact on shaping the field of contemporary jewelry. We sat for a friendly get to know you chat and I immediately felt at ease talking with her. Since it was my first time at the fair, I asked her where I should start. She told me she always starts at the Schmuck special exhibition, one of the main meeting places for jewelry enthusiasts and collectors. Organized as a competition each year, it bestows the Herbert Hofmann Prize to three artists. So that’s where I started.
Afterward, I walked around the rows and rows of gallery stalls featuring every kind of jewelry, from classic metalworking to complete surprises in material and design. I moved down the hallway to Galerie Marzee, the world’s largest gallery for contemporary art jewelry. Their gallery stall was located in a section called the FRAME, which consisted of a select group of galleries that form a “frame” around everything that happens in the Messe throughout the week. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the owner, Marie-José van den Hout, and her son Michiel Heffels. I was delighted to see close up Veronika Fabian’s Tattoo necklace and was able to try on German artist Dorthea Pruhl’s Grosse Fische (Large Fishes), a necklace from 2018 made of titanium and gold. This piece was incredibly interesting to look at and felt exquisite on, as if it were made for me. I also tried on another show-stopping piece by Lucy Sarneel, Juggler’s Moment #8.
The morning of Thursday, March 14, was set aside for AJF in Conversation—Curators & Collectors: How They Choose, with moderator Susan Cummins and panelists Deedie Rose, Toni Greenbaum, Anni Nørskov Mørch, and Karen Pontoppidan. AJF has been fortunate for the hospitality given by Wolfgang Lösche, the director of Galerie Handwerk, who has generously donated the symposium space for the past two years. I was personally fortunate to have two AJF volunteers, Emily Cobb and Enrica Prazolli, help me pull the details of the morning together for both discussions. Also in attendance was AJF board member Sofia Bjorkman, along with an audience full of AJF members. This panel was asked how decisions are made in the creative activity of choosing for a collection and researching and building a show. It was standing room only. The panel discussion was recorded, and you can see it here.
Next on the agenda was the bus tour. All the credit for organizing an incredible tour goes to AJF founder and board member Susan Cummins, who has probably been to Munich more times than she can count, so she took it upon herself to arrange a tour of phenomenal quality and range—all jewelry, of course. Among the highlights were Villa Stuck, for a guided tour by Ellen Maurer Zilioli, who curated Karen Pontoppidan’s solo show, The One Woman Group Exhibition, then straight to the Pinakothek der Moderne, with a private tour before the opening of Schmuckismus, with curator Karen Potoppidan. We ended up seeing a total of 17 group and solo exhibitions featuring the work of jewelers from all over the world.
By 6:30 p.m. we were on our way to dinner at the Messe at the Fairground. This was arranged by Wolfgang Lösche, who is also the head of the exhibition at the Munich and Upper Bavaria Chamber of Craft Trades, which organizes Schmuck annually. The guests included the galleries showing at the FRAME, AJF members, invited artists, and other special guests. We talked with artists, gallerists, and other collectors, and the dynamic discussions generated a high level of energy and excitement in the room.
On the morning of Friday, March 15, AJF board co-chair Sienna Patti surprised me by asking what kind of jewelry I’d like to wear from her collection. I requested something powerful and with good energy. She handed me a Mallory Weston brooch, Prismatic Smiley Pin, made of anodized titanium. I wore it like a friendly shield of armor.
This was day two of AJF in Conversation, with The Next Generation of Gallerists, featuring moderator Bella Neyman and panelists Atty Tantivit, Karin Roy Andersson, Irene Belfi, Elena and Chiaralice Rizzi, and Jenna Shaifer. This young generation of gallerists was asked to talk about their spaces, their programming, and how they’re making it in this economy. The room was once again standing room only, with a lively discussion. The last question illustrates the depth of the conversation. Lars Sture, of Norwegian Crafts, asked (and I’m paraphrasing) where the panelists see the future of jewelry going and what their responsibility is to it. There was an audible gasp by the audience because we were already 15 minutes over and there was no time to answer such a substantial question. It was possibly the perfect ending, showing what good critical discourse is: ever-evolving, never-ending discussion. You can watch the video here.
Friday’s tour after the discussion was a more manageable schedule, with 11 gallery visits—some close enough to walk between at our own pace—and very little rain. A highlight for me was visiting Attai Chen’s studio. I found fascinating his use of mostly cast-off materials that are meticulously and beautifully transformed into jewelry and sculptural pieces.
Saturday night was special. On the main stage at the Messe, in front of the entire international jewelry world, AJF presented the Susan Beech Mid-Career Grant to recipient Tiff Massey. This important award recognizes the vision and leadership of Susan Beech in creating a once-in-a-lifetime $20,000 prize, as well as celebrating the talented winner of the grant. Susan Beech and I presented together, and then the heavy lifting of the trip was complete and it was time for a celebration dinner with AJF members, volunteers, board members, and staff. Dinner was at the Kuffler California Kitchen; the food was good and the company even better!
Sunday, March 17, was my last day in Munich. It had been raining most of the week, but Sunday was beautiful—full sun with a refreshing chill in the air. I got up early and did a little sightseeing in the main town square, Marienplatz, visited the Museum Brandhorst to see an exhibition of work by American artist Alex Katz, and then went to the Haus der Kunst to see the show by Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. But the highlight of the day was Gijs Bakker. Every year on Sunday morning during Schmuck there’s a topnotch keynote lecture at the Pinakothek der Moderne, and this year it was Gijs Bakker: The Necessity of Jewelry. You can see how excited I was from the picture Gijs took of the audience (I’m in the second row, second from the right).
This was my first trip to Munich and my first trip with AJF. It was an honor to be part of such a world-renowned event, and representing an organization that I believe in made it an incredible and memorable experience. I hope, if you haven’t already, that you’ll please consider joining AJF on one of our intimate guided trips—where it’s all about the jewelry we love.