Otto Künzli in Japan

Minimalist yet profound, sometimes ironic and always displaying superlative craftsmanship: the works created by this jewelry artist, who was born in Zurich in 1948, were recently showcased in Tokyo.

Standing in front of a round table, a young girl was about to set down a bright red bead she had brought along, with her mother. Visitors laid out separate, unthreaded beads in the form of a large pearl necklace. This is a work by Otto Künzli, entitled The Big Family. The girl smiled as she positioned her bead. Then came a couple, each placing a glass ball on the table. The two pieces were connected via the many intervening items. The couple also smiled, as if enjoying seeing the expanding circle. Künzli’s contemporary jewellery was exhibited at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. One of his works, Der Rote Punkt (The Red Dot) was placed on an outside wall of this 1930s building, formerly an imperial residence. This offers the extra pleasure of reading relationships between an artwork and the space itself. One of Künzli’s newest pieces was inspired by komainu, the guardian lion-dogs that sit on either side of the entrance to this building. People are surprised to hear the turquoise hair Künzli used was taken from a ‘cosplay’ wig for Hatsune Miku, a virtual reality character, bought by the artist in Akihabara. Viewers notice how this work functions as a komainu, guarding the exhibition, and after realizing this, they embark on a reconsideration of the meaning of jewellery. Struck by Künzli’s wit, and shaken by his unconventional modes of expression, we look again at the importance of jewellery. People exiting the museum go back into the throng of Tokyo still talking about Künzli’s work. It is as if a piece of jewellery hung around the city on human bodies, bearing a profound message. Künzli’s art shows that we are part of the world we see around us, even if the various internal relationships may not be visible. It was rare to see an exhibition of contemporary jewellery that offered such intellectual stimulation, especially, if I may say so, in Japan where jewellery is not usually associated with strong messages. The exhibition provided a wonderful source of multiple perspectives.

Text Noriko Kawakami
Photos Miriam Künzli

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