CHEERFULLY TRANSCENDING BOUNDARIES
By Ellen Maurer Zilioli
Now they’re all getting a bit long in their tooth, if they haven’t gotten old already: those who made sure that the so-called “international auteur jewelry” evolved into something, i.e. an autonomous artistic movement, no matter what one might think of the more specific definition of the term.
Robert Smit, born in 1941, is one of them, albeit not one of the very first trailblazers but certainly one of the early protagonists and definitely one of the truly great and truly important artists whose oeuvre has matured into a substantial, well-rounded and compact whole – like a large wheel of Dutch Gouda. He merits being acknowledged in an outstanding, unique and already historicizing article on the topic. His oeuvre unites a number of characteristic features that usually don’t partner up so easily. But he has this exceptional gift of combining graphical, constructive, pictorial, figurative and abstract arrangements without exerting undue effort, without causing any conflict and without putting their contrariness in the limelight, this knack of linking and interlacing them in a sovereign act into highly original compositions. This is probably the most unique and unmistakable characteristic of his entire oeuvre.
Robert Smit won the Bavarian State Prize in 2010, celebrates his 70th birthday in 2011 and will be honored in 2012 with a solo exhibition in the Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich, in Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne on the occasion of the traditional jewelry events held in Munich each year in March. Robert Smit is a classic, a central personality of the international scene – his unobtrusive and rather quiet nature notwithstanding – and his oeuvre is an instructive example in terms of complexity, coherence and authenticity. If one takes a closer look, it surprisingly presents itself as both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He himself shed light on some aspects of his artistic development in the All about me series of lectures held in the Neue Sammlung in Munich in 2008. However, there is still a lot to be investigated.
He is a solitaire. And yet his work is symptomatic – of his era, of certain aesthetic concerns, of the message inherent in jewelry in general, of the character, the atmosphere and the aesthetic preferences of his home country. Smit’s oeuvre exemplifies the attempts made by jewelry artists after the 1950s to take an artistic stance, to conquer other artistic fields and to make them fruitful for jewelry, to pick up their inspirations and incorporate them in jewelry, or to temporarily abandon jewelry altogether in order to return to it, enriched, after a while. Although he received classical training as a goldsmith, his creations testify to a non-jewelry-related personality, his true personality. They tell stories and have something poetic and narrative about them, located somewhere between figurative-illustrative temperament and gestural-informal act. This is probably why his ideas unfold in the course of and via cycles which – after completion of a corpus – are united in fascinating groups of works.