Contemporary artworks that tell a story, convey an idea or raise a smile. Many people will not immediately associate these characteristics with silver, but the exhibition Silver Art in the Netherlands at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag clearly debunks this notion. Silver in fact has endless artistic potential. Over the past three decades, silversmiths have been pushing the boundaries of this material, in a quest that has produced some astounding results.
Dutch silver was renowned in the seventeenth century. For centuries, silver had a certain status, and everyone encountered it at some time, whether at home, in church or at a local society. After the Second World War, however, independent silversmiths seemed to be a dying breed. There was no longer any money for silver, and in the 1960s and ‘70s it was often regarded as ‘elitist’, old-fashioned and inappropriate. New materials like aluminium, plastic and rubber grew in popularity.
Means of artistic expression
The tide turned in the 1980s, thanks in large part to the efforts of Jan van Nouhuys. He considered what could be done to revive the craft. For centuries, silversmithing techniques had focused on making domestic silver items. This, he says, led silversmiths to automatically fashion a dish or vase when presented with a flat sheet of silver, even when they worked on non-commissioned pieces. If silversmiths were to innovate and give their work new depth, they would have to work more as artists, not only crafting beautiful objects, but also telling a story. This realisation led to a change of direction, and since the 1990s silver has been used increasingly as a means of artistic expression.
Entrance into the art world
Van Nouhuys established Zilver in Beweging (‘Silver in Motion’) in 1990 to generate interest in contemporary silver art. The organisation invited silversmiths, designers and artists to meetings, where they explored the potential of modern silver. It also held exhibitions to give silversmiths a platform. Exposure at PAN Amsterdam from 1994 onwards also helped raise the profile of contemporary silver. It was there that silver art – work in silver by young designers – literally made its entrance into the art world.
Thanks in part to Zilver in Beweging, a new generation of silversmiths were able to firmly establish their credentials. The organisation achieved a great deal. Nowadays, its successor, Silver in Motion, has taken over the task of promoting the artistic potential of contemporary silver. The Gemeentemuseum’s Silver Art in the Netherlands exhibition – itself a Silver in Motion initiative – will feature 140 items, in a fine showcase of silver art produced over the past 25 years.
A lavishly illustrated book entitled Zilverkunst in Nederland/ Silver Art in the Netherlands has been published in conjunction with the exhibition.