Damian Skinner is an art historian and curator based in Gisborne, New Zealand. He edited the book Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective (Lark Books, 2013).
Galleries exhibiting jewelry are an important part of our community and the people who run them have interesting backgrounds and stories to tell. In this interview Marie Jose Van Den Hout from Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen, the Netherlands answered some questions posed by Damian Skinner.
Damian Skinner: Please tell us about your family history and how you became a dealer of contemporary jewelry.
Marie Jose Van Den Hout: My grandfather was a well-known artist and craftsman, specializing in repoussé and chasing. As a gold- and silversmith he made objects for Catholic churches, mostly chalices, ciboriums and monstrances in silver and gold. At the start of his career he was invited by the Domes of Cologne (Germany) and Brussels (Belgium) to do the restorations of their most important reliquaries. For years he and my grandmother lived abroad and my father was born in Cologne.
When my grandfather was not working in his studio, you could find him in art museums where he sat copying famous paintings, as a lot of artists did in the early days. Our living room was full of paintings, one of which was of a boat on the river. Much later when I visited Museum Kröller-Müller in Otterlo (the Netherlands) I was shocked to see that this was not one of my grandfather's own paintings but a meticulous copy of Manet's Bateau Atelier. I suppose all the other paintings were copies as well, but I never got the chance to find out. My first memory of my grandfather is sitting beside him during our Sunday family visits and holding the chalice foot, which was well fastened in a pitch bowl. I thought he absolutely needed me for the job and he never discouraged me. Not a word was spoken. There was only the silvery sound of his concentrated hammering. How I loved those Sundays.
As in a traditional guild, it was taken for granted that my father would be a gold- and silversmith as would his eldest son. They both had Eloy as one of their given names, Eloy being the patron saint of gold- and silversmiths. My eldest brother, one younger brother and I worked in my father's workshop. In order to get an official maker's mark we had to go to the gold- and silversmithing department of the academy in Maastricht. I got into a relationship with a very ambitious, now well-known, painter. When we parted he told me I should start a gallery because I had a feeling for good work. I regarded his opinion highly and the idea of starting a gallery stayed in my head.
In 1978, I started a small gallery (60 meters square) in Nijmegen. With the technical knowledge of the gold- and silversmithing crafts I grew up with, my art academy education and a very lively cultural scene in the city of Nijmegen, I had an ideal starting point and the ambition to make it successful.
In the front room I showed my brother's jewelry and in the back room, a completely white-tiled room without windows, I showed fine art. This mysterious, dark, white room inspired many artists to make installations.
After a few years I realized that it was very hard to have both disciplines in one small gallery and decided to specialize in jewelry. I met jewelry artists with completely different ideas than my brother's. Herman Hermsen lived in Nijmegen and was the first to show his work in the gallery. Others followed.
My brother did not agree with this; he wanted shops or galleries to only show his work and we decided to stop our collaboration. It was hard to survive in the beginning, because his work was easily accessible. But in the end it was exactly what I wanted. After some years I moved to a new bigger gallery with two floors (250 meters square). For my tenth anniversary I organized a travelling show with combs. This marked the start of the gallery's success. In 1995 I moved to the present grain warehouse at the riverside, which I had to restore from a ruined condition. Here the gallery and the Marzee Collection have found their home. I live on top of this treasure and after my working hours I can look out over the riverside and relax.
You have a reputation as a dealer who is interested in younger jewelers. What interests you about people at the start of their careers and how do you interact with them?
I have always been interested in the motives and ideas of young jewelers, to see where they come from and where they are heading. Throughout the past 25 years I have been organizing the Marzee graduate show each year during August and September. At first I only visited academies and colleges in The Netherlands, then Belgium and Germany were added and since 1995, when I moved into my new venue, the shows became international. They include schools in Europe, the United States, Australia and Asia. Now the selection is not only made in person at the schools' graduate shows, but also from photos sent to me by invited schools. Judging from photos makes the selection much more complicated; some people can make mediocre photos of great work, others are able to make mediocre work look interesting in photos.
Nearly all the students who are invited to participate in this show come over to the opening, which means another possibility to get to know the young artists and for them to get to know each other. In the past four years we have organized a symposium on the day after the opening. Students stay an extra day and talk about their work to their colleagues and some invited guests. This meeting is even better than the opening, as there is openness, trust and generosity. It's heartbreakingly beautiful.
During the opening the Marzee Graduate Prizes are awarded to between five and ten promising graduates. The prize consists of a workshop in Belgium at Atelier Ravary, an estate of very good friends of mine, with a fully equipped workshop where they can take a further step in their development. During this week I stay there as well and we do a lot of talking. The following year, during the graduate show, they present the work they started at Ravary and which they continued working on at home.
Recently, several academy classes visited the gallery and I was told that it is very important for young graduates to have their first exposure in this famous gallery. I wholeheartedly grant them this opportunity. So despite all the work this show brings, I will continue organizing it.
What else do you do?
A few months ago I began an exchange exhibition with one the most important art galleries in The Netherlands, Nouvelles Images in The Hague. Nouvelles Images shows paintings or sculptures in my gallery and I show jewelry in their gallery. We call it Exchange. I am pleased to bring the disciplines together again. How it will work out I don't know yet. It is as I said: there are two crowds that have to mix, but at least one crowd is hardly aware of the other.
I award a Marzee oeuvre prize every year, the first winner in 1999 was Dorothea Prühl.
I produce a series of inexpensive pieces called Marzee for Starters.
I made a show in St Andrews (Scotland) in which I selected jewelry for twelve couples, based on photos the director of the museum sent to me.
We have concerts of contemporary composed music once a month.
How do you explain to someone who doesn’t know anything about contemporary jewelry what exactly it is that you sell in the gallery?
I tell them that these artists studied at an art academy and that it is as important a discipline as painting and sculpture. I also show them what, in my view, is the artistic value of each piece. Wearability is an important issue for me; whether it is comfortable to wear the pieces or not is not important. And I tell them about my 3 H's: Head, Hand and Heart. These three should be in balance. Too much head would make the piece only intellectual, conceptual if you like; too much hand would make it just technical and nice; and too much heart would make it sentimental.
The contemporary jewelry world is a broad church, with many congregations. If the whole scene was crowded together in a room, which groups would you want to hang out with?
I would hang out with the 'sculptors' among them who make wearable jewelry.
You have done a series of publications over the years. For each quarter you publish a catalog of the shows that took place and followers of the gallery can subscribe to them. Tell us how this began and how to sign up.
January 25, 1998: ten years after the first exhibition Galerie Marzee started printing a magazine, which is a visual report of all exhibitions held in the gallery. The first magazine featured the opening of Lapis by Ruudt Peters, the show Werk In Uitvoering (work in progress) by Marta de Wit (clothes) and the exhibition of Jewellery Nijmegen's Choice.
Nowadays, the magazine has become a small catalog with images of all the work on show, a CV and a short text by the artist. New shows open every October, December, March, May and August (graduate show). Each of those shows consists of three to five solo exhibitions at the same time. The only group show is the August-September show, the graduate show.
Each year during summer (August through September) Galerie Marzee presents the International Graduate Show. In this year's catalog we will print an image and a short statement by all 90 participants from around the world. This Marzee magazine has become a series covering the development of contemporary jewelry, as all these volumes show the history of the gallery’s exhibitions, which in itself is part of the history of contemporary jewelry. You can subscribe to this magazine sending an email to the gallery and through our website.
There are back volumes available of the exhibition catalogs from 2000 onwards. A volume costs €35 (postage not included). A set of fourteen catalogues of the graduate shows of 1999 to 2012 costs €80 (postage not included).
The gallery has also done another ongoing publication project. You ask prominent people from a specific town to wear some of the jewelry you represent and then you publish photos of them in a book. What’s the idea behind these publications?
These publications are called Jewellery Amersfoort’s Choice, Jewellery Nijmegen’s Choice, Jewellery Zwolle’s Choice, Jewellery Arnhem’s Choice, Jewellery Apeldoorn’s Choice, Jewellery Almere’s Choice, Jewellery the Choice of Schiedam and the last one, Jewellery the Choice of the Europarliament.
The idea was to have 25 women from several towns in the Netherlands select and wear contemporary jewelry, have them photographed with their selected pieces, show the jewelry and their comments in specially designed showcases in their town's museum, with their portraits (75 x 100 cm) hanging above the showcases. I organize all these projects in order to get contemporary jewelry known to as many people as possible.
What are the three most interesting pieces of jewelry you've seen lately?
I am addicted to Dorothea Prühl's work, but I also love Otto Künzli's ideas.
Antje Bräuer, one of Dorothea's former students recently had a show that was very strong. And Lucy Sarneel's work I find very authentic.