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Interview with Collectors Karen and Michael Rotenberg


(left) Karen Rotenberg wearing Réka Fekete, Untitled, 2012, brooch, wood, enameled steel, found object, zinc paint, silver, 75 x 115 mm, photo: Michael Rotenberg; (right) Michael Rotenberg wearing Chrisoula Papahatzi, Returning Home, 2015, brooch, steel, 90 x 50 x 20 mm, photo: Karen Rotenberg

Karen and Michael Rotenberg are an elegant and distinctive presence on the Art Jewelry Forum trips where we first met. Always curious and interested, they visit art jewelry studios and galleries at home and abroad, which fits right in with their passion for cultural travel.

Involved in the art scene of their hometown of Boston, where Karen was a gallerist for several decades, they have been traveling extensively, exploring art, fashion, design, and jewelry. Their art jewelry collection does not discriminate: The work of both up-and-coming and established artists attracts their interest, as it is all about the “piece.” Karen and Michael took time from their busy schedule to talk to us about their collection and their collecting experience.

Adriana G. Radulescu: How did you become jewelry collectors?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: We do not recall when the term “jewelry collector” began to feel comfortable for us, but our membership in Art Jewelry Forum, with its access and introduction to centers of contemporary studio jewelry, was certainly a major factor in our accepting the designation.

What kind of jewelry are you collecting?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: Our focus has been on contemporary studio jewelry with an emphasis on the innovative use of alternative materials by emerging talent and mid-career artists.

What draws you to one piece of jewelry versus another?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: A compelling visual statement. We appreciate an interesting “back story” (i.e., inspiration and concept), but we do not feel that it can replace a visually compelling object.

Karen Rotenberg wearing Mariko Kusumoto, Untitled, 2015, brooch, heat-set polyester, 150 x 180 x 100 mm, photo: Michael Rotenberg

Have your taste and interests transformed over the years?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: While work in gold, silver, and precious stones continues to tempt us, we have become more adventurous and intrigued by the possibilities of nonprecious materials and dramatic sculptural statements.

Are you both attracted by the same pieces? How do you negotiate an acquisition between yourselves?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: We both believe that jewelry is meant to have a relationship to the body, and that this relationship is best served by wearing it—therefore we only purchase work that we would enjoy viewing on each other.

Karen, you founded Alianza gallery in Boston and have been a gallerist for many years. What were your jewelry-curating criteria for the gallery? How did people respond to your selections?

Karen Rotenberg: My criteria for jewelry shown at Alianza gallery were strong design, excellent construction, and, of course, salability. But I was also guided by the desire to give our customers a more expansive view of the field and a greater comfort level in considering more challenging options.

You are both wearing jewelry. What determines which pieces you choose to wear in a specific instance?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: A relationship to the attire as well as the event we are attending.

What are your favorite pieces, and why?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: Usually the most recent purchase, because the emotional engagement of both place and process remains the strongest.

Karen, you were a jury member for the AJF Artist Award for emerging artists in 2014. How would you describe that experience?

Karen Rotenberg: Serving as a juror for the AJF Artist Award was a memorable educational experience, especially the access we had to the range of impressive works by emerging talents, and the opportunity to discuss the merits of each with others in the field.

Karen Rotenberg wearing Seulgi Kwon, The Other Side of the Spear, 2015, brooch, silicone, pigment, thread, paper, 170 x 130 x 80 mm, photo: Michael Rotenberg

What advice would you have for emerging artists?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: Our advice to emerging artists would be that the best way to publicize your work is to wear it! Excellent photos that highlight the work and also show its relationship to the human form are helpful. I would also suggest a line of multiples as the best way to broaden the customer base.

Have you met people who just started exploring collecting? What guidance would you have for new collectors, and how would you encourage people to start their own collections?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: To new collectors, look, look, look! Interesting jewelry is often found at interesting destinations:

  • Juried craft fairs (local and international), e.g., in Boston, the Society of Arts and Crafts has two shows each year (and a shop)
  • Museum collections and shops
  • Jewelry galleries (for range, quality, and expert mentoring)
  • The Internet—the web sites of AJF and Klimt02 are excellent for where and when (but for buying, we prefer to go and see the “potential purchases” directly)

What sources do you use to stay informed about the jewelry world?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: Our sources are Art Jewelry Forum, Klimt02, the Association for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts, and SOFA.

What else do you collect? How do these collections relate to jewelry?

Karen and Michael Rotenberg: We collect ceramic and art glass, and use the same criteria as when we are considering jewelry: innovation, compelling visual statement, and construction. The issues of size and placement do present an additional set of challenges.

Karen Rotenberg wearing Zdeněk Vacek and Daniel Pošta, Untitled, 2010, necklace, rope, crystallized stone, 200 mm diameter, photo: Cheryl Richards

Karen has been recently featured in the Frame of Mind project, an artistic initiative in support of Rogerson Communities, which is a nonprofit Boston organization focused on elderly and low-income men and women. According to their press release, “Frame of Mind embraces the joie de vivre, style and wisdom of a diverse group of nine Boston women, ranging in age from 62–86—fashion icons, trailblazers, thought leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators who have refined their style over time.” Can you elaborate on why you have been selected and your involvement in this project, and how it relates to your collecting, including art jewelry?

Karen Rotenberg: The Frame of Mind project appealed to me because it dared to suggest that “women of a certain age” could reach beyond the dictates of exercise, good nutrition, and crossword puzzles to achieve a more rewarding lifestyle. It suggested that an interest in creative apparel and adornment was not only a “feel-good” statement but also a great opportunity to engage new friends and to consider new possibilities and pursuits. I am not certain why I was chosen for this project. Perhaps it was due to my involvement in the Boston art scene (e.g., the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Fashion Council of the Museum of Fine Arts, etc.), which provided sympathetic venues for my promotion of contemporary studio jewelry as a serious art form, and as a compelling expression of personal style.

Thank you!

INDEX IMAGE: Michael Rotenberg wearing Christoph Straube, Untitled, from the Enamel on Steel series, 2016, brooch, enamel on steel, 40 x 80 mm, Karen Rotenberg wearing Seulgi Kwon, Daylight, silicone, pigment, thread, paper, plastic, 155 x 90 x 55 mm, photo: Bill Brett


  • Adriana G. Radulescu

    Adriana G. Radulescu is an architect and jeweler living in Washington, DC. She has a master’s degree in architecture and urban design from Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest, Romania, and metalsmith training from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington DC. She joined AJF in 2013.

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