United States

05/13/2014
The Expansion of the Contemporary Art Jewelry Scene

Liesbeth den Besten and Benjamin Lignel, Art Jewelry Forum Speakers Tour, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California, October 25, 2013

The art jewelry scene has been expanding exponentially in the past 10 years, both through online platforms with well-curated articles and images of jewelry and through more conventional outlets, such as museums, galleries, and books. Unfortunately, to the average buyer or collector, art jewelry is invisible. The combination of art and jewelry befuddles many consumers and brings up a slew of questions beyond “What is it?” The fine jewelry lover asks, “So, can I wear it?” The art collector asks, “Is it worth my investment?” And finally, your next-door neighbor asks, “Why should I care?” 

There are a myriad reasons why art jewelry matters and could matter, but the truth is, as Liesbeth den Besten, a founding member of Think Tank, said at the “Out of a Box” symposium, “Author jewelry is not a hot topic in the way design has gained a sexy status.” Design, in its many forms, has trickled into everyday life, from the chair you sit on to the cup of your double espresso to the smart phone that you cannot live a day without. Design brings with it excitement and disturbances that are accessible to the average person. The art jewelry scene, on the other hand, caters almost exclusively to a well- informed and devoted network of jewelers, artists, craftspeople, collectors, and scholars. To the average person, art jewelry barely exists.

Some might say there is no need for the art jewelry scene to expand beyond its current audience, and that is a valid opinion. But wouldn’t it be incredible if art jewelry could spark interest in and stimulate conversations with anyone, anywhere? 

In early October, Liesbeth den Besten and Benjamin Lignel, a jeweler and fellow member of Think Tank, arrived at the California College of the Arts to talk about art jewelry, bringing with them news of Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective, an in-depth book on contemporary jewelry. In addition to discussing the spaces that jewelry occupies and the possibilities of art jewelry, the two speakers touched on the “reach” of art jewelry. Den Besten, in particular, mentioned that more than 1000 art jewelry students graduate with bachelor and master degrees every year, and that this number was simultaneously terrifying and exciting. Perhaps terrifying because the more jewelers there are, the fiercer the competition. Perhaps exciting because not only will these students infuse fresh and raw ideas into art jewelry, but also each student is one more person who will say to a friend, “Oh hey, have I told you about this far out jeweler Gijs Bakker who made gigantic flower chokers out of laminated photos?”

For art jewelry to matter to the average person, people need to learn about art jewelry—what it is, where it comes from, and why it matters. This education is increasingly finding its origin at the university level, where art jewelry is constantly examined, reinvented, then dispersed into the world by students with articulate thoughts and opinions on it.

Before their lecture at the California College of the Arts, den Besten and Lignel talked with several senior students in the jewelry and metal arts program. During the chats, Lignel emphasized the importance of the relationship between art jewelry and the viewer and the difference between art jewelry in a gallery and on the body of its owner. When concentrating on crafting a piece in the studio, students may neglect the fact that if someone buys the work, it will exist in a wholly different environment on the body of its wearer. Den Besten also urged students to bridge the gap between the studio and the world outside, suggesting to one student working with structural shadows to, “Go outside with it. Have a look at how it works. Try it out. Test it out on people.” 

Den Besten and Lignel’s visit, while short, will leave its mark on the graduating art jewelry students at CCA. Most importantly, they leave behind a suggestion that art jewelry students are not only individuals on the cusp of becoming participants in the art jewelry scene, but also people who hold the under tapped and overlooked knowledge to restructure the current scene, and ultimately, propel art jewelry into public sight. As the title of den Besten and Lignel’s lecture so aptly articulates, “Dissolve + Disseminate!”

Follow the link to see the lecture: Liesbeth den Besten and Benjamin Lignel, Art Jewelry Forum Speakers Tour, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California, October 25, 2013

Olivia Shih

Olivia Shih is a contemporary jeweler, artist and writer based in Oakland, California. Born in the US and raised in Taiwan, she is interested in the cultural nuances that can be explored through wearable sculpture. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and a BFA in Jewelry and Metal Arts from the California College of the Arts.   

Texts and Pretexts
Jorunn Veiteberg, Juror for Schmuck 2014