A personal interview with Norwegian artist Sigurd Bronger, as introduced by Petra Hölscher, Senior Curator, Die Neue Sammlung, in anticipation of his monographic exhibition at Pinakothek der Moderne, March 2 – June 2, 2024.

Hollowed out goose eggs and smiley-face balloons, scientific instruments and his mother’s gallstones – the repertoire of things that have been elevated to becoming jewellery objects knows no bounds for the Norwegian artist Sigurd Bronger (1957). Made portable thanks to artistic suspension mechanisms made of brass, with precision reminiscent of the mechanics of scientific equipment, Bronger himself therefore no longer speaks of his works as jewellery, but rather ‘Wearables‘. In their meticulous precision, the brass and gold mechanisms provide an objectified reception of Bronger’s material world, allowing an aesthetic observation and a discovery of the beauty possible in an object. 

In this way, he showcases constant companions in our daily lives, everyday things such as a simple drain strainer, or natural waste products such as camel dung from the Gobi Desert. The question, and one that Bronger also asks, is whether we would even look at such an item without its carrying mechanisms. Or wear it as a brooch? Hardly likely.

Under the patronage of Queen Sonja of Norway, this globally unique artistic language will now reach a broad international public for the first time in a monographic exhibition outside Norway. Spanning all points in his career from early student work to recent years, Sigurd Bronger will be presented by Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, the only German museum in possession of Bronger’s work, alongside those in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and America.  Die Neue Sammlung are delighted to be able to show an overview of the work of this extraordinary jewellery artist in the Pinakothek der Moderne in 2024.

Sustainable construction No 0923, 2023. Cardboard box, silver, steel, brass. Private collection. Photo: Sigurd Bronger

Shifting Paradigms in Jewellery Craftsmanship

Interview by Current Obsession

CO: The phrase, ‘engineering artist’ seems to recur in reference to your work. How did you come to goldsmithing, and at which point did you begin to see limitations within jewellery, that caused you to emphasise the engineering aspect rather than the decorative aspect? 

SB: I had this very traditional education focused on technique rather than the artistic approach. In a way, it is very boring to start with, because you are so enclosed in the system- and if you’re going to be in the goldsmith world, which is very traditional, you have to focus on a different approach than the normal art education. So then I went to the Netherlands, to further my education at a technical school. The education was more or less free, but I came to a point where I realised, Is this really what I want to do?  I was asking myself, Who are you actually making the stuff for? I experienced that the jewellery field was very commercialised and it was for people who had money. I mean, jewellery is a very luxury thing. Right? So, at that point I was asking myself, Is this actually necessary?

I think there was a turning point when I first came to Gallery Ra, in Amsterdam. By coincidence I attended an opening there. When I came into this gallery and saw the pieces laying there, I was so struck by; Oh!… Jewellery doesn’t need to be gold and silver.  You know, at that time- it was early in the seventies- it was plastics and aluminium and all kinds of different materials. That really triggered my mind to see that there is a possibility in this world to do something else than traditional goldsmithing.

At the same time, living in Amsterdam, I went regularly to the Modern Art Museum, the Stedelijk. For me it was sort of self-educating. I was fascinated by all the fine art and the sculptures in the museum. And I said to myself, I wish I could do this

Brooch “Carrying device for a Nautilus shell”, 2015. Nautilus shell, steel, gold-plated brass. Nationalmuseum Oslo.

But then I realised that I could do this by making jewellery despite the small scale. I mean, it’s about dimensions, right? For me, on a small scale, I can control the whole aspect of making. That is very important to me.   

Crafting at a Thoughtful Pace

CO: Is there a piece of advice that someone gave you earlier in your career that has stuck with you? 

SB: To be patient. This is really something I’ve learned myself, to be patient in the process of working. Because it’s about the feelings- the control of your fingers and the feeling of the material- When you use machines,  you are lost, at least that’s my personal view, I feel I’ve lost something- I cannot control it. Therefore everything is done by hand. 

CO: Did I read that you only strive to make four pieces a year because there just isn’t enough time for more? 

SB: I make finished pieces, about four, maybe six pieces in a year. Because you know how it is, my process is not economic at all. I make a piece and then I look at it and I realise it’s not good enough. So I demolish it and start anew. 

So this is my own, how do you say, critic. For one piece, I can make three of a kind. So that’s how I work and I enjoy the process, because I learn from my mistakes in the process. 

I`m not so concerned about the public when I’m making pieces. It is not that important for me to sell. I’m  lucky to have another job to finance my artistic practice. I’m making it mostly for myself because I have all these ideas in my head, which I want to realise.

The Art of Intuition

CO: So you make a piece, maybe you even destroy it and do it again.. In that process, how do you know when it’s working- when you see that it comes close enough to what you were imagining, and then you allow yourself to go further? 

SB: That’s an interesting question you’re asking. And actually, to be honest, I cannot really tell you when. It’s a certain kind of satisfying feeling that, ‘Okay, now this works better. I mean, after doing three or four tryouts, and then suddenly, I can see that the idea I had in my head has come to a realisation, to a point where I could be satisfied. I don’t know exactly how that happens. 

And this is very interesting: these days, when I get all the pieces I’ve made 30 years ago and I look at them… These pieces, I could not make today. It’s about what happened there in that time and space. Sometimes I’m really impressed. Wow. How did I do that? And I cannot remember how.

Turning Point

CO: What was a project that was really a significant challenge for you, or something that you know you really, really learned a lot from? 

SB: I think a turning point in my career was the first solo exhibition I had at Gallery Ra in Amsterdam, at Paul Derrez’ Gallery. Because they were really professional, how they communicated with the people about my work and how they promoted me. And over the years I think this has been significant for me to continue working, because all the pieces I wanted to sell, I did it through that gallery. Paul had a sort of, not ownership, but he was invested. This gave me freedom. The gallery took care of the business, so when people came into my studio and said, ‘See that, can I buy it? I told them to contact gallery RA. In that way we established a very good relationship. We trusted each other. And this was a very good experience for me. 

Necklace ‘Camay’, 2005. Camay soap (hotel size), chrome-plated silver, cotton cord. Photo — Courtesy of Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum

CO: It’s sad, after it’s closed to hear how much of an impact it made for so many artists, and what a huge difference it made for their careers. But it’s interesting to hear how your relationship with them was so essential and important for you, because gallery representation is for a lot of makers almost irrelevant now. They sell their work themselves, online, and many feel they’ve benefited from this kind of transition away from the gallery. But they also spend a significant amount of their time working on that, doing what you were freed from because someone else was dealing with it professionally. And you were able to just do your work. 

The Role of Galleries and the Intimacy Dilemma

CO: Do you have any burning questions for the field of jewellery? Is there anything that kind of keeps you awake at night about what the future of jewellery looks like? 

SB: Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of galleries. We are talking about how important they are. And you mentioned that young people are selling stuff online. But the buyers and the collectors- do they go to buy the stuff online or do they buy it in the gallery? Some of my collectors say they never buy stuff online. They have to try it out and feel it in their hand and look at it, you know. So how does this younger generation convince the collector that this is a good piece? 

Of course, you can buy it and when you get it home, you see that Oh, no, it doesn’t work. So you have to send it back again. I mean, there’s a lot of costs and logistics included in this. I’m just wondering how we are going to deal with this if you don’t have a gallery? 

CO: What’s interesting is that it raises the question of intimacy, because when you experience the jewel in the space, actually having that moment of intimacy with the piece, you know you want to buy it. And that intimacy is erased in the digital experience, so that when you get it, what you get is a stranger. Instead of a moment of recognition, it’s some kind of strange confrontation.

SB: Exactly. 

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