The two Swiss artists Therese Hilbert and Otto Kuenzli have been creating contemporary jewelry for more than 40 years now. What their creations have in common is their minimalist austerity and the precise craftsmanship involved, plus the radical approach they reveal – particularly the early ones. Kuenzli has often added a dash of conceptualism or a provocative or humorous touch as well, whereas Hilbert has always been and still is engaged in the theme of bodies, or of space surrounded by an exterior shell.
This is the first time that the works created by these artists, who were born in Zurich in 1948 and have been living in Munich since the 1970s, are being showcased jointly. In addition to the jewelry they crafted, a number of personal collector’s items, found objects and numerous photographs testify to a richly creative life within the context of family, friends and like-minded people. With this exhibition, the museum is continuing its “&:” series, which it launched in 2009 to spotlight the creative dialog between working groups or partners in the field of design. The “&: Hilbert & Kuenzli” show, however, doesn’t really feature a designer couple, because neither of them has created designs for the industrial sector. They are much rather to be counted among those jewelry makers who, often referred to as auteurs, have been defining jewelry as an autonomous artistic medium since the 1960s.
In the second half of the 1960s, they both trained as goldsmiths at what back then was Zurich’s School of Art and Design (and now is Zurich University of the Arts). Just like his German colleagues Karl Schollmayer, Reinhold Reiling, Friedrich Becker or Hermann Jünger at the corresponding educational institutions in Pforzheim, Düsseldorf and Munich, their mutual instructor Max Fröhlich was primarily concerned with shedding the conservative image the goldsmith’s craft had at the time, and disassociating it from the mundane vapidity of industrially produced jewelry. Arts and crafts schools and academies back then had been focusing on contemporary artistic trends since the end of the war, on the ideals of the Bauhaus, the design theories taught at the Ulm School of Design or on the Concrete Art movement influenced by Max Bill.
The resulting formal austerity still characterizes both Therese Hilbert’s and Otto Kuenzli’s creations. After working at various ateliers in Zurich, Bern and Munich, they studied at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts from 1972 to 1978 under Professor Hermann Jünger. However, the latter’s rather picturesque, compositional approach and his references to the goldsmith’s art of the Romanesque period can hardly be discerned in the creations of the Swiss designer couple. But like Hermann Jünger, Therese Hilbert and Otto Kuenzli are protagonists of a jewelry concept that is based on the mindset of the maker, and regards jewelry not as fashionable accessories but as a serious artistic medium.
Photos Otto Kuenzli
Preview picture: Otto Kuenzli, Sumi pendant, 2008. Ink, silk, 10,5 x 2,5 x 0,5 cm. Photo Miriam Kuenzli
Museum of Applied Arts and Design