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Last week AJF sent out a statement to announce a reaction to Esther Doornbusch’s review of Mit Eigensinn. “Great!,” I thought, not every article sparks a conversation. Therefore it is a pity that you did not only offer the arena, but felt it necessary to distance yourself from the review. And worse, from the writer.
My first impression is that AJF could have been more supportive of their author, who has contributed some pretty strong reviews in the past. For example by saying that AJF always highly appreciated her reviews but that in this one case here etc. etc. Perhaps this wording in the email was consulted with Esther? In that case, it could have been added that AJF and the author decided together that, “in hindsight,” it could have been done differently.
Yes, Esther is my friend. But I am also her colleague once in a while, when I contribute to the jewellery debate with a review or an original thought. Will I be the next to be sacrificed when someone does not like my review?
The only good thing: commotion. People might be woken up to think for themselves if Esther was right to give this book a negative review. All AJF had to do was to hold a neutral position.
Well, probably best to talk about this with writers and book lovers. They happen to be assembled during Schmuck on Friday morning, when some new books are presented. I don’t mean to jeopardize the festive character of the morning. But it could be an excellent moment to also address the question if jewellery has a healthy review culture. Are there enough publishing houses, are there enough readers, and people involved with those books, are different opinions possible, is there a place to voice them, is there a freedom to write? – questions like these. We could hear what Dirk Allgaier has to say to this (from a commercial stance, I am guessing “Bad publicity is publicity too” instead of not being written about).
Reply to Esther Doornbusch’s book review, published in December 2023
January 15, 2024
We thank Esther Doornbusch for reviewing the publication Mit Eigensinn* (A Mind of Their Own. Jewellery from Austria. Focusing on Women Artists) for Art Jewelry Forum, which we—initiator Gabriele Kutschera, Ursula Guttmann, and Susanne Hammer—as its editors and as co-curators of the exhibition of the same title read with growing astonishment and mounting disbelief. It is not just the wording of the text, which in fact barely meets the requirements of a well-grounded review. The review contains numerous erroneous interpretations and inaccuracies; accordingly, we see ourselves forced to undertake a much-needed correction. Since we would actually have to go into each paragraph individually but doing so would be beyond the scope of this reply, we will focus on the important paragraph on the exhibition as our example.
Esther Doornbusch writes,“The exhibition and catalog aim to provide an overview of what has happened in Austria in the field of contemporary jewelry since the 1970s. The show took place at a private museum, the Museum Angerlehner, in Thalheim bei Wels, Austria, in two rooms devoted primarily to exhibiting graphics and photography. As stated in the book: the owner of the museum, Heinz J. Angerlehner, was closely involved. The title of the project refers to a 1985 exhibition at the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (renamed Belvedere 21), in Vienna:Kunst mit Eigen-Sinn, Aktuelle Kunst von Frauen (Art with a Mind of its Own. Art by Women Now). But the motivation to refer to this title is not explained. It would be interesting to learn more about the connection between the two exhibitions.”
Both in the introduction (“MIT EIGENSINN*”) and in Gabriele Kutschera’s foreword (“Why Minds of Our Own*?”) the underlying motives and the context are described from various angles:
The meaning of “Eigensinn” as one’s own meaning—that is, one’s own significance in the sociological sense and in relation to Eigen-Sinn, the title of the 1985 exhibition (in the sense of appropriation, autonomy, self-empowerment)—is interpreted by Gabriele Kutschera with reference to artistic activity and the self-determination inherent in it.
In their text, the curators (Ursula Guttmann/Susanne Hammer) examine in depth the quotation described in this introduction from the context of the 1985 exhibition—“Willful as a form of appropriating the right to represent and express oneself, the experiences in one’s own environment, one’s own history”—which not only was crucial with regard to the 1985 show but is also relevant to our focus. The motivations and approaches to work shown by early women artists in jewelry (which are often in stark contrast to masculine conceptions) are elucidated with reference to individual positions. In both instances the texts highlight power structures, the question of autonomy and authenticity, of the authority to define (art) history, and, ultimately, the self-empowerment of women artists.
The reason for establishing a link between the two exhibitions, has, therefore, been more than sufficiently explained.
What is also incomprehensible is the assertion that Herr Angerlehner was involved in the concept planning. In his brief preface, it unequivocally states that he supported this exhibition project in his capacity as owner of the museum, but not that his involvement went beyond that.
Finally, we would like to stress that it was never the plan to produce a complete historical reappraisal, nor was this expressed, but rather to focus sharply on the pioneering women in the context of the early years of avant-garde jewelry, to describe the contribution they have made to Austrian jewelry, and to show the diversity of their approaches. This is also intended to be deliberately underscored with visuals. That may not be to everyone’s taste but the accusation, which, after all, runs through Doornbusch’s entire review, that we have acted without any plan is disrespectful, beside the point, and simply incorrect.
We would like to take this opportunity to once again expressly thank Dirk Allgaier and his publishing house, Arnoldsche Art Publishers. We were encouraged through conversations underpinned by his knowledge to engage in this subject.
—Gabriele Kutschera, Ursula Guttmann, Susanne Hammer