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* The Four Seasons in Sixteen Stone Worth of Silver *


SPRING
Paul Pallandt

WINTER
Jan van Nouhuys

SUMMER
Jef Huibers

AUTUMN
At Brandenburg

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Quest for a Silver Horizon.

I look back on seven years of silver in wonder. The pattern of the roads I have travelled so far is quirky, the landscape still largely shrouded in mist. Careful, my guardian angel whispers, time is yet to tell, don't overplay your hand. Then again, those who dare not presume are by definition barred from sharing their discoveries.

In the summer of 1995 a brochure about Goudji fluttered on to my desk. I found myself staring in amazement at an ethereal sculpture which subsequently revealed itself to be a teapot, with wings and generously studded with precious stones. After a month or two, during which time not a day went by without my looking at this appliance with its mythical proportions, it suddenly hit me like a bolt of lightning: I simply had to touch base with the maker of this amazing creation, his work simply belonged in the gallery.

It was another couple of years before my eyes had got used to what is happening by way of silver in the Netherlands. For over a decade a small group of people have been actively involved in getting the silversmith to reclaim his awareness as an artist. During this time the "Silver in Motion" Foundation, founded in 1990 by Jan van Nouhuys, has challenged and occasionally provokes, put forward themes and organised exhibitions and symposiums.

Which brings us closer to the key question as to what is so special about silver that it seems fair to refer to it as a separate branch of the visual arts rather than as the umpteenth member of the sculptural family in a broader sense. I have been trying for years to put into words what effect silver has on light, but that wouldn't suffice even if I succeeded. If anything, the sense of luxury that silver conveys as a material and its association with luxury utensils gets in the way of the abandonment which is so characteristic of art: in so far as art has to have a user function, what we're actually talking about is design, or "applied art" as it used to be referred to in the artistically puritan Netherlands of years gone by, as a sort of contradiction in terms of artistic freedom.

And so a whole new vista of unsuspected possibilities opens up as soon as the silversmith succeeds in absconding from the regime imposed by luxury objects. The magic of silver cannot but be a combination of factors, as a textbook example of a revolution sparked by a multitude of secularities culminating in the indefinable.

All these and a multitude of other considerations had been going round and round in my mind before I even got to formulating the theme of this exhibition. Although words such as "hypothesis" and "experiment" are obvious choices in this context, time tells that it is modesty which creates room for reflection. It is as yet too soon to judge, and yet we are in the privileged position to watch, to attend the birth of something special which will take several more decades to reach the stage where it will permit a more mature verdict being pronounced. In the throes of a challenge or a process of fermentation if you prefer, in an unpredictable future encased in silver: can you think of a greater thrill?

The question then presented itself as to what theme would leave enough room so as not to be caught in the "specific commission" trap. An art gallery isn't a tableware store, and so the obvious way forward here would be to base the selection of silver objects on their sculptural message rather than any user function they might have. This too is reflected in the choice of theme. It remains to be seen, I should add, whether I would have been courageous enough to formulate a commission such as this had it not been for artists such as At Brandenburg and Jef Huibers, who had already amply justified the rationale of free silver sculpture.

What I have seen to date is quite promising. The free interpretation of the theme has created something that is emphatically not quadripartite, as it would have been if a painter had created four identically dimensioned paintings, for example. While I am writing this, a mental picture emerges of a huge cupboard with four identical cubby-holes containing one of the four silver sculptures each, thus bringing them together even though they are worlds apart. This is not as accidental as it may sound, for at an earlier stage of the project, before either the name or the theme had crystallised, we considered choosing "The Cupboard" as our theme, with the empty inside providing accommodation for whatever the artists' imagination would produce. The cupboard concept as such was a flow-on from the prescribed size: king-size, or rather, absolutely huge by silver standards. The silversmiths' responses were promising: they anticipated technical problems which they hadn't yet encountered with the considerably smaller "large silver objects", as the larger utensils are called. Which actually implied that they would have to break new ground.

This left just the one unsolved problem: the quantity of silver required for the project, which considerably exceeded the sort of "regular quantity" that would be kept in stock. And so, when reactions on all fronts had turned out positive, I decided to allot a specific quantity of silver to each silversmith. Having started at five kilos a head, I had raised the stakes to ten kilos each before I knew it and eventually ended up nudging 100 kilos overall, thus enabling the idealistic and the sensational to converge in what became the title of the project:

"The Four Seasons in Sixteen Stone Worth of Silver".

Of the four silversmiths, Jan van Nouhuys is the best known. His sculpture depicts winter, and is based on a C.S. Lewis story entitled "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", about a small boy who while playing hide and seek in a vast empty mansion strays into a wardrobe full of fur coats and, through the cupboard's missing back, ends up in a country called Narnia, where it's always winter. The jingling reflection of the specially hammered sides of silver plates transformed into doors renders the frozen landscape almost tangible. Although Van Nouhuys in his free work usually sticks much closer to objects which still have a user function, the monumental dimension he confers upon these objects makes it the most natural thing altogether to forget about their function.

At Brandenburg instantaneously plumped for autumn. He is a bit of an odd man out in the world of silver, in that he has a long-standing tradition of creating unusual sculptures in which different materials play an independent role - a chunk of black marble, for example, or the rusty components of an indeterminate piece of machinery. If there is anyone who has resolutely cast aside the codes of the genre, it's Brandenburg - and just as a sculpture such as "Leak" or "All Quiet Now" is growing on you, he takes the wind out of his audience's sails with a breathtakingly expertly made coffee and tea service which in its design skims the stylistic boundaries of Art Deco, yet through features such as the unexpectedly erratic pattern of its zigzag lines firmly plonks the spectator back into the twenty-first century. His sculpture, "Autumn", is actually called "The Height of Autumn". The tiny room on its four stilts contains a silver bedstead with a silver eiderdown, one corner of which has been turned down. A minuscule acorn lies on the floor, as the kind of surprise any male would be over the moon to stumble upon in the autumn of his life

Jef Huibers occupies a peculiar position in the world of silver, being a painter and designer rather than an actual silversmith. Many of his concepts have been made at the workshop of Jan van Nouhuys, including his sculpture entitled Summer. The three stacked wooden boxes house a silver object each which together represent the various stages of the sun from dawn to midday, when Phoebus with its burning rays reaches its pinnacle. Closer scrutiny of Jef Huibers's oeuvre reveals that in his own particular way he has distanced himself from many of the customs of the trade and has thus arrived at a design and use of materials which more or less represent an example of how things can be done differently.

When the edition was put to bed, it transpired that Paul Pallandt - the fourth silversmith, who had taken on the challenge of symbolising spring in silver - was still very much engaged in his struggle with the precious metal, which he had decided should capture the budding and bursting open of flowers and leaves as well as being used to capture and redirect into the world the fresh clear light that gives people the sense of being reborn. I have on occasion characterised Pallandt as the impressionist among silversmiths, as a reference to the gutsiness he displays when opting in favour of the beauty of the unfinished rather than polishing and perfecting everything down to the tiniest detail. His bowl entitled "Full Moon", which is made from silver, wrought iron and beaten gold, is the perfect example.

Preliminary Epilogue

The response to the silver objects on show at the gallery, not just from my Dutch visitors but even more so from people from other countries, shows that something out of the ordinary is taking place here.

Although I know for a fact that there is an element of subjectivity in me, I am nevertheless sufficiently confident to state that we are witnesses to the start of a new chapter in the book of visual arts. And although there really is no need to shout it from the rooftops, it would be equally inappropriate not to mention it at all.

Koen Nieuwendijk
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