Liesbeth den Besten is an art historian, based in the Amsterdam region, who works as an independent writer, teacher, lecturer, and curator. Presently, she teaches jewelry history at Sint Lucas Antwerpen. Together with Gijs Bakker, Ruudt Peters, and Ted Noten, she is one of the initiators of MASieraad, an MA in jewelry, now at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam (2018–2020), in the future at other places. Her book, On Jewellery: A Compendium of International Contemporary Art Jewellery, was published by Arnoldsche in November 2011.
The dimensions of the wall showcase—33 meters long, 3 meters high, and 90 centimeters deep —are quite unusual. This is the place destined for jewelry exhibitions in the relatively new venue of the CODA Museum in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. The museum houses an important collection of contemporary Dutch and international jewelry that reaches back to the 1960s and is continuously extended with new acquisitions. But, there is no permanent display of jewelry, only this imposing wall with huge glass windows used for temporary exhibitions, which terrifies the person in charge every time.
Invited to exhibit their extensive collection of contemporary jewelry, Paul Derrez and Willem Hoogstede, collectors for more than 40 years, decided to accept this huge space as a gift because it enabled them to “dig up” their complete collection, which is stored safely and functionally, but not in a very attractive way. They managed to include about 500 pieces in the showcase. Approximately 150 pieces were not selected mainly because they could not be presented inside the vitrine in an obvious way, and making them understandable would have required more mediation than the curators were comfortable with. Another reason to omit pieces had to do with quality. In their view, it is fair to the artist to only show their best work in public.
Derrez and Hoogstede spent the summer of 2013 rediscovering their collection and designing a viable exhibition concept. Together, they made index cards of every piece, which helped them to get a grip on the whole and to make groups (and new groups and other groups) while moving the cards. A specially-made scale model of the showcase helped them decide on the dimensions and the rhythm of the panels that were to become the main presentation model in the showcase. They even made proof panels, which were documented and photographed. I doubt whether there are many exhibitions that are prepared in such a thorough way.
Various ways to present their collection were discussed, including a historical and an artist-focused presentation, but in the end they decided to go for the most personal angle: how the pieces are worn. Different groups were made according to the place on the body where you usually wear jewelry—hand, arm, neck, breast, and lapel— after all, the desire to wear jewelry is at the root of their acquisition policy. In addition to that, there are also some panels dedicated to one artist. The rest of the decision-making was based on taste and intuition. Pieces were combined because of shape and color, and sometimes, material. The set-up is inviting, and the grey panels offer some rest to the eye, which is highly necessary when confronted with such an abundance of work.
The exhibition’s title Dare to Wear perfectly expresses the attitude of Paul Derrez and Willem Hoogstede, who have always enjoyed wearing pieces that could be described as extreme. Both confirmed wearers of contemporary jewelry, they became the ambassadors of the newly emerging jewelry from the get-go, in the 1970s. There is probably not a single day that they don’t wear a piece of jewelry. Willem Hoogstede’s professional occupation occasionally came into conflict with the message of certain pieces of jewelry. As a teacher at a primary school in one of Amsterdam’s “difficult” neighborhoods that houses a large community of deeply religious people, Hoogstede did have to compromise sometimes. But as a matter of fact, abstract pieces –especially worn by men—invite conversation as much as explicit works do, and these collectors never get weary of engaging in it.
As a young goldsmith in the early 1970s, Paul Derrez (1950) did an internship with Hans Appenzeller and Lous Martin, who directed Galerie Sieraad, the very first jewelry gallery in the Netherlands (1969–1975). The internship laid the foundation of the Derrez-Hoogstede collection because Appenzeller and Martin paid their young intern with pieces from the so-called Serie-Sieraad project. This way, Paul Derrez obtained some interesting pieces, created as multiples, as a starting point for what was to become one of the main private jewelry collections in the Netherlands. From 1976 on, when Paul Derrez started Galerie Ra, the collection expanded rapidly, initially by acquiring Dutch jewelry, but soon also international jewelry as it became more accessible. Together with his partner, now husband, Willem Hoogstede, they decided to buy one piece from every exhibition in the gallery. Of course, their purchase amounted to a form of support for the artists, but it was also simply motivated by the fact that they wanted to wear the jewelry they showcased. Later, other criteria gained importance, such as the relevance of a piece within the oeuvre of an artist, and its representativeness for the collection as a whole. The collection kept pace with the expansion of the jewelry field, and the more artists and different approaches, the more decisions had to be made about a possible acquisition. The naivety of the first years disappeared, but never did the joy and commitment.
The character of this collection of international jewelry can be classified as typical Dutch. There is a preference for abstract and conceptual work, for work made in series, and for experimental and cheap materials, flavored by an inclination to pieces that express some sort of exaggeration (I will come back to this later). The interaction between a piece of jewelry and the wearer (and viewer) has always highly interested Derrez and Hoogstede. Jewelry made in editions forms an important part of the collection, such as the Serie-Sieraad jewelry previously mentioned. The Serie-Sieraad project, which ran from 1973–1975, was a typical Dutch jewelry phenomenon that shows the strong connection between contemporary jewelry and the fine art movements of those days. In the same period, Galerie Seriaal (1969–1974), a fine art gallery in Amsterdam, editioned multiples by fine artists with the aim to make art available for people with a moderate income, calling it a “revolutionary shop.” Galerie Sieraad embraced the same democratic ideal of “jewelry for all” when it started Serie-Sieraad, which consisted of jewelry that was easy to reproduce and cheap. The ease with which the jewelry was produced turned out to be a pitfall, however, as Appenzeller and Martin had to do most of the production themselves. They managed to present the collection at all locations of De Bijenkorf, the main Dutch department store, but sales were not very successful. This kind of abstract jewelry, made from plastic, steel, and semi-finished industrial material, was simply too exceptional for those days.
Yet, this type of “democratic” jewelry-in-series represents an important part of the Derrez–Hoogstede collection because the idea has been popular in the Netherlands for many years. The early work of Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum is similarly driven by the will to reach out to people (especially young people of their own generation), as is the jewelry of Marion Herbst, Anne Finlay, Marga Staartjes, Maria Hees, Beppe Kessler, Susanna Heron, Caroline Broadhead, and Johanna Dahm—artists of different background and style, all represented in the collection. The fact that Dutch jewelers called themselves “jewelry designers” in those days gives a good idea of their professional attitude and goals.
In the 1980s, flexible materials became an important characteristic of Dutch and British jewelry. There are some quite exceptional textile and wood Wearables by LAM de Wolf, made in the early 1980s, and also some large, bold, and colorful body pieces from Kai Chan and Marjorie Schick, and shoulder pieces by Susanna Heron, Beppe Kessler, and Geoff Roberts. The love of exaggerated shapes and ideas can be seen in the work of figurative artists such as Wolf von Waldow, Bussi Buhs, and Petra Hartman, and also in the sculptural acrylic bangles by Peter Chang, the wallpaper brooches by Otto Künzli, and the early papier-mâché bracelets by Marjorie Schick (1960s). The Derrez-Hoogstede collection is not characterized by good taste. It takes the viewer into other realms. It surprises or disturbs. It stirs one’s imagination and thoughts—just as Paul Derrez’s Risky Business (1994) and Tits and Pieces jewelry (2000) did with their obvious sexual references.
Some artists are well represented in this collection. Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum are among them, while Esther Knobel and Otto Künzli might be called key artists. The collection contains legendary pieces—jewelry icons such as Künzli’s Gold makes you Blind bracelet (1980) and Bakker’s Dew Drop (1982)—next to jewelry of younger artists, such as Noon Passama, Constanze Schreiber, Anne Achenbach, Réka Fekete, and Clarisse Bruynbroeck.
All together, the Derrez-Hoogstede collection gives a good overview of European contemporary jewelry from the 1970s until the 1990s. From then on, the field begins to expand with increasing pace and becomes more diversified. Although Galerie Ra was the first to exhibit Robert Smit’s Ornamentum Humanum golden jewelry (1985), the Derrez-Hoogstede collection does not consistently track the development of the field’s emphasis on authorship and unique pieces.
Derrez and Hoogstede mainly acquired jewelry from their own gallery, which is fair enough. They were close to the fire and helped keeping it burning. Although the gallery also represents author jewelry with a unique character, this type of work is less well represented in the private collection of the gallery director. It would seem that the sympathy of the collectors stayed with good statements in rather cheap materials (plastic, nylon, steel, textile, paper, copper, rubber, wood, ceramics, and iron). Notwithstanding this, Derrez and Hoogstede acquired very good examples of jewelry by Sigurd Bronger, Warwick Freeman, Karl Fritsch, Lisa Walker, Georg Dobler, Margaret West, Daniel Kruger, Peter Bauhuis, and Mirjam Hiller. Gold and diamonds are probably the least present materials in this private collection, which could be seen as a statement in itself—jewelry has nothing to do with intrinsic material values, uniqueness, or brilliance, but everything to do with its power to establish a relationship with the wearer and viewer as a trigger for thoughts and personal values.
In my view, the collection is very honest, personal, and unique. It remains true to the couple’s initial ideals and interests in contemporary jewelry while being firmly rooted in Dutch abstraction and plainness. Intriguing are the couple of anonymous pieces in the collection. They must have a story, but apparently it is lost. Also intriguing is the absence from the collection of certain notable Dutch artists, such as Manon van Kouswijk. According to the collectors, this is just bad coincidence, and she is on their wish list. Collecting, after all, is the work of human beings with all its charm and oddities … Christmas is coming soon.