Interview by Christoph Ziegler

Sara Visbeek wearing a necklace by Babette Boucher. Photo: J. Redel.

CZ: How did the Netherlands become one of the most important centers for contemporary jewelry?

JR: During the Seventies and Eighties, Amsterdam was the place to be. The atmosphere was very free and open-minded. You could get a grant here for doing things that weren't even allowed anywhere else. Art education at the Rietveld Academy was good and inexpensive. We had some very good, brave, and daring gallerists who broke a lot of boundaries and we had a good crowd of young professionals, architects, graphic designers, art critics, and artists who occasionally bought and regularly wore a new and interesting kind of jewelry.
What may have played a part is the fact that this new kind of jewelry had just 'liberated' itself from the realm of precious metals.

Sara Visbeek with a brooch by Julia Walter. Photo: J. Redel.

The new contemporary jewelry made of plastic bands, cardboard, or old bicycle tubes was quite affordable for a young public. At the time we (finally) discovered the world of contemporary jewelry in the late Nineties, this whole infrastructure - comprising good galleries, a functioning system of subsidies, grants and allowances, vibrant museum exhibitions, good art schools, good critics and writers - was still in place.

CZ: What makes contemporary jewelry so attractive to you?

JR: It started with me looking for jewelry for my wife Sara to wear, as a kind of adornment, as a gift, probably the way most people buy jewelry for a loved one.
I always found most pieces of jewelry very similar and boring. Then we finally discovered the hidden world of contemporary jewelry - jewelry that was not only enticing, beautiful, well-made, but also daring, bold, architectural, sculptural, concise, imaginative and, above all, meaningful, often in complicated ways.
Meaningful jewelry can interact with the individual wearer in very subtle and interesting ways. Sara finds wearing interesting pieces both inspiring and liberating. And I enjoy watching her wearing them. Some pieces excite, some protect, some warn others off, some attract, some abhor, some just make people wonder. Just as land art can't exist without a site as a situational context, so jewelry needs a wearer and a public to fully convey its meaning.

CZ: What does 'collecting' mean to you?

JR: The word 'collecting' to me is connected to hoarding, to greed, to a silly pursuit of completeness and a desire for domination or control within a limited domain. Moreover, living in a hypercapitalist society, we are continuously stimulated to "express ourselves" as individuals by the things we buy. In this view one's personality and status are defined by one's taste and consumption; emo ergo sum: I buy, therefore I exist. These cultural and ethical considerations already argue quite strongly against collecting - but there is more. Collecting comes with quite a few burdens. Buying good pieces involves making big financial sacrifices and it leaves one with a huge responsibility. Taking good care of important and valuable pieces of art from one generation to the next is difficult enough for a museum nowadays, let alone for a private individual.


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