Design Lab #10
Alles Klappen! – Ulla and Martin Kaufmann

23.07.2021 to 10.10.2021

In Design Lab #10, the art of contemporary gold and silversmithing meets its craft traditions. Ulla and Martin Kaufmann are among today’s most renowned precious metal smiths. With their cubes, they have created autonomous art objects that go beyond functionality and prestige. In the exhibition Alles Klappen! (Foldable: Every Which Way) their works enter into an exciting dialogue with prominent pieces from the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts), including the rich treasures of Lüneburg Council Silver.

A Cube Is a Cube Is a Cube

Ulla and Martin Kaufmann’s cubes broaden goldsmithing’s traditional boundaries between decorative and prestige objects. The cubes come across as a kind of self-referential readymades denying their origins in the world of daily life. At first glance a personal signature is unrecognisable; functionality is negated, as are contextual implications and possible artistic value. The first cubes created by Ulla and Martin Kaufmann emerged from the intellectual breeding ground prevalent in an era when artists were developing ever new strategies to undermine traditional notions of high art. Quite a few, including Josef Albers with his Homage to the Square or Donald Judd with his Specific Objects, strove to reduce painting and sculpture to their essentials and to reduce art to the status of a mere object.

The cubes by Ulla and Martin Kaufmann can also be understood as autonomous art objects, originating from the spirit of the goldsmith’s craft. They embody the idea of arbitrariness at peace with itself and independent of any ornamental accountability. This constitutes their appeal to the viewer. Opening them is also essential, for it only in this cognitive movement that each cube reveals its hidden essence.

Foldable: Every Which Way

The cubes are made of gilded brass. The brass sheets are milled, then aligned and soldered. The soldering complicates the process while also stabilising the form. It is the intermediary technique that brings the thing to life. The gilding is not an end in itself but a method lending the object a uniform colour. Because that is what matters: the manifestation. However, “if the cube is too perfect, it loses its charm and becomes uninteresting,” according to Ulla Kaufmann. “Our dream is to be ultimately able to fold the cube back into a plane. If we achieve that, we will have won.” The title of the exhibition, Alles Klappen! (Foldable: Every Which Way), simultaneously names the impetus behind the decades-long exploration of the cube, its intellectual concept, and craftsmanship. The mastery of material and technique is combined with a clear aesthetic notion of space. In the case of the cubes, the relationship between inside and outside is only revealed by opening them.

Extreme Smithing

In their works, Ulla and Martin Kaufmann characteristically break the boundaries of traditional craftsmanship, explore the opportunities offered by each material, and dispense with conventional ways of thinking. They have created brooches that hold fabrics together without clasps and cups that do without “feet”. Cups have always needed a foot-rim to stand on. The goldsmiths have broken with this custom, using a cut rock crystal as the cup base or conceiving of it more architecturally – as a kind of column. Minimalist architecture and sculpture have been an essential reference point in Ulla and Martin Kaufmann’s oeuvre.

Design Lab #10 is curated by Claudia Banz and Ulla Kaufmann.

A special exhibition of the Kunstgewerbemuseum – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

About the Design Lab series

Since 2019, the exhibition series Design Lab has invited selected design studios, students and activists to present current projects and to enter into a discourse with the collection of Kunstgewerbemuseum – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The series is curated by Claudia Banz, curator for design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum. It is supported by the Kuratorium Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Board of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation).

Design Lab #10 Alles klappen! Ulla and Martin Kaufmann
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum

10785 Berlin

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