Jewellery, Objects and Collectors A Retrospective
[…] “The 1960’s generated major disruptions, motivated new challenges and ideas that significantly changed the mentality of society, shaking, in a relevant way, the roots of the artistic thought of the time. Consequently, the different disciplines suffered great transformations, and the artists felt the need to break with the stigma established, looking for other languages that translated into works whose content, materials and techniques were quite different from those previously established.
In Portugal, the avant-garde appeared and artists were confronted with a strong creative limitation due to the installed dictatorship. They sought, “for aesthetics and intellectual enrichment reasons” (3), a “temporary emigration” (4), in particular to Paris and New York in order to get closer to the major currents of transformation and to the effervescence observed as much in Central Europe as in North America.
Kukas was part of this group that studied abroad. She chose Paris, a city which welcomed a large group of Portuguese artists of her generation. João Vieira, José Escada, Lourdes Castro and René Bertholo are some of the artists she met during the three years she studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Modernes.
It was in Paris that she saw for the first time jewellery with a modern design, disconnected from traditional clichés. The Galerie du Siècle, on Boulevard Saint-Germain, which she walked past daily, regularly exhibited Nordic jewellery that revealed good contemporary design, which translated into a formal refinement, minimalism and a deconstruction of the habitual patterns of jewellery that Kukas knew, and that impressed her through its “simplicity, […] and its absolutely inno- vative creativity at the time.” (5).
Though it was not one of the centers where big changes were occurring in the area of the New Jewellery (6), Paris was the epicenter of the great movements of art schools that broke with the conventionalism established in the Arts in general.
In Portugal, in the 1960s, the scarce information about the great changes that were taking place abroad concerning Art Jewellery as a form of artistic expression arrived difficultly and remotely. “The significant movements that emerged in North America and Central Europe were almost unheard of. The information to which one had access was scarce, yet the process of renovation arose and found expression in our country, and it is in the late 50s, early 60s, that the main innovations in the creation of jewel- lery started to occur.” (7).
Though some artists in the 1960s, particularly from the Visual Arts – such as Jorge Vieira (1922-1998) and José Aurélio (1938), who in addition to sculpture created jewellery in their privacy, and Margarida Schimmelpfennig (1925), who after having studied sculp- ture in Porto, turned to Munich to specialize in enamel and to learn jewellery – it was Kukas who gave the first major step in the public renovation of jewellery design in Portugal when, in 1963, she confronted faria de Carvalho with her work and scheduled her first solo exhibition at the Galeria Diário de Notícias. Contemporaneously, Alberto Gordillo (1943), equally pioneer and with a distinct path, had been imposing significant disrup- tions to traditional jewellery, which also contributed to the renewal of jewellery in Portugal.
The movement of avant-garde artists and the energy that proliferated in the daily life of these groups provided and motivated these two emerging authors in jewellery of the 1960s to develop an innovative and risky work, which substantially referred to the avant- garde art actuating and all that was in the air at the time. “It is important to note that Kukas and Gordillo exhibited, in the 60s, in Contemporary Art Galleries, which usually showed works by the most important Portuguese artists in the visual arts, painting and sculpture. It should be highlighted how, owing to both, jewellery was introduced in places of artistic context and was received favourably on the part of curators, critics and the general public. In an article on the jewellery of Kukas, in the Revista de Pensamento e Acção – O Tempo e o Modo (8) – the historian fernando Pernes refers to the importance of faria de Carvalho, Director of the Galeria Diário de Notícias, having exhibited Kukas’ jewels in his gallery: “for sure, not all exhibitions seen in the Galeria Diário de Notícias are clad with exacting standards… Yet the inclusion in its last programme, of achieve- ments such as the public disclosure of Kukas’ jewellery, conversely, demonstrated a willingness of adjustment that deserves full praise.” (9).
This aspect, although very posi- tive, did not allow, during this decade, for a greater breadth of this sector, due to the lack of a school and greater institutional support. “While in North America, Germany, England, Holland and Italy, schools began to emerge and it was the pioneering and most successful artists themselves who began new programmes and new approaches to learning, thus giving substance to this movement, in Portugal the total absence of dialogue and contact between the different emerging authors of this period, as well as the absence of a school-project is observed. During this time, the continued renewal of jewellery in Portugal suffered from the absence of a training place that could foster dialogue and encourage new authors in this discipline.” (10).
In 1962, Kukas installed her studio at home and established contact with the Master Goldsmith António Jordão (1925) (11) with whom she worked until 1974. He was the first goldsmith to translate and realize her ideas. Master Jordão, who worked almost exclusively for the brand Branca de Brito (12) with classic and traditional standards, was faced with an innovative way of thinking about jewellery, having stated, “Kukas drew in the air” (13) and carried with her a multitude of unexpected and/or “inappropriate” materials to jewellery. The files with the projects of the pieces remain in the archives of the workshop, which is still active, on which the Master translated, through drawings, the shapes the artist described geometrically and in detail. It is relevant and constant to refer the educational role the artist has had throughout her career in “educating” the look and aesthetics of the goldsmiths with whom she has worked with (14), some even said publicly how much they had learnt with this artist during the process of making her pieces.
“Kukas surprised by the innovation of the” (15) unusual “materials and shapes she incor- porated in her jewellery. The escape from all that was expected was the recurring concern in her creations, and the endless search for true values prevailed. The jewels as social status, and their intrinsic material value, were no longer the most important. Her works should not be acquired as an accounted investment for the buyer. Its carrier established a dialogue with it in the way he or she felt: seduced and captivated.” (16). “Kukas deconstructed the until then usual and predictable patterns, either through the insertion of organic materials, or through her formal rigor. Her early pieces remit to works in process, results of a dialogue between an artist and a craftsman.” (17)
“It is someone who can see her work in space and time, and simultaneously lead the skilled hands of an artisan. The virtuosity of the craftsman is guided by a refined, crystalline and rigorous plan of the artist.” (18)
If, in a first stage, corresponding to the 1960s, her work has a more organic and changing presence, in a second stage in the 1970s, geometry and the reference to industrialized shapes and fragments gain more expression. The pieces become harder and starker, imposing themselves by their scale and weight and by the analogies we quickly make with objects and fragments of the metallurgic universe.
The 1970s were equally remarkable. Kukas remains at the forefront of jewellery as a form of artistic expression, being regularly invited to exhibit, not only in the circuit of national galleries, but also a series of international events, alongside artists from other disciplines. Along with Gordillo, she placed jewellery in the circuit of the visual arts, conquering an avant-garde audience, hungry for innovative, thought-provoking and unexpected jewellery.
This decade, intersected by the April Revolution, shudders the panorama of the arts in Portugal. There is, on one hand, a greater artistic dynamics, and on the other, the closure of several galleries and the falling of purchasing power – a reflection of the financial crisis, of the decolonization and of the change of the political regime. Kukas persists and, albeit a long period of absence of individual exhibitions, reiterates her contacts with customers and develops a persistent production, based on commissions from a public that begins to seek her work in order to have unique and custom pieces, many of which for collections, to mark and to differentiate their identity – Kukas was bold in form and incessantly and continuously searched for models that went beyond the standards established by traditional jewellery.
Though certain typologies produced in small series began to emerge, differences were always to be noticed, be it in the size – by customizing them, adapting the piece of jewellery to each user – be it in the colour and type of stone – which was often proposed by the client. Since these were handmade pieces, it was possible to imprint a rather individual stamp to each creation.
In the 1980s, she resumed her solo exhibitions, among which we highlight Kukas, Jóias e Objectos, (30) at the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation in 1982, and at the Gilde Gallery in 1986 at the invitation of José Sommer Ribeiro and Luís Teixeira da Mota, respectively. In totally different contexts, both exhibitions confirmed the success the artist had reached.
It is also in this decade that Kukas opened her first shop, on Praça das flores. This much desired project became an icon of good Lisbon design. On the one hand, it was a centre for the diffusion and promotion of her work, on the other, it was an educational vehicle for a young public that was being generated and thus learnt to form its taste in new moulds. It is during this period that the artist developed more variants to the typologies of her creation and, in addition to jewellery, started to design everyday objects, both functional and decorative.
ue to the increased level of sales, which was justified by significant growth in purchasing power in the 1980s, Kukas opened a new space on Rua do Sacramento in Chiado, “still rising from the ashes”ue to the increased level of sales, which was justified by significant growth in purchasing power in the 1980s, Kukas opened a new space on Rua do Sacramento in Chiado, “still rising from the ashes” (31), in 1988. In this shop, she started co-productions and partnerships with workshops and factories, expanding her creations to objects of other types and functions, and combining metal with other materials. Made In (32), which also appeared at this time, made several components in stone for her pieces, notably in marble. Later, Kukas combined these components with details and/or metal struc- tures, promoting the renovation of the design of that period and provided the public with the acquisition of different objects, in a purified a minimal and refined line, refer- enced in the currents of the Nordic design. In this space, in addition to her work, the creator selected pieces by other national and international authors whom she repre- sented and sold.
In the 1980s, due to the financial boost felt and the opening of her two shops, she managed to create the conditions to sustain, in a more secure way the production of her pieces, and thus ensured that the jewellery be executed almost exclusively in precious metals. She recreated previous models, once developed in poor materials, not only by choice but also by request of her customers. The pieces, though outside the established standards of scale and form, remitted to a more classic line in terms of finish – recurrently more polished and shiny surfaces.
The success of Kukas in the 1980s is unquestionable. She individually generated her creative process and her customers and collectors, who are continually faithful, and does not come to merge with the other New Jewellery movement that finally was implanted in Portugal, led by Tereza Seabra and Alexandra Serpa Pimentel. Both artists – after their return from the USA and the UK, respectively – founded in 1978, the first jewellery course in Ar.Co – Centro de Arte e Communicação Visual, in Lisbon, and later, in 1984, inaugurated Artefacto 3 – the first jewellery gallery specializing in art jewellery, in Lisbon. Two completely different fields were defined in this decade, that, although ontemporaries, do not establish a direct contact and interaction. However, in view of the History of Contemporary Jewellery in Portugal, both parties have an impor- tant place and we cannot dissociate them. Kukas is, in fact, the great pioneer of Art Jewellery, alongside Alberto Gordillo, and the movement triggered by Tereza Seabra and Alexandra Serpa Pimentel, through the school Ar.Co, since the 1980s, is the great generator of a group of authors with equally prominent careers in the New Jewellery movement in Portugal. Moving in different circuits, they contemplated different audiences and, occasionally, cross each other at events and institutionally promoted exhibitions – of which the Jewellery Symposia organized by the Museu Nacional do Traje in the 1990s, and the many international exhibitions organized by ICEP – the Portuguese Institute for foreign Trade over the decades of 80 and 90 are examples.
However, and despite the success achieved by Kukas over these three decades, in the early 1990s, both shops ended up closing due to misunderstandings in the compa- nies that managed them.
Later, and during a short period, between 1992-93, at the invitation of Maria Áurea Troçolo, who offered her a space at the Arte Bruta shop, on Rua do Século, in Lisbon, where Kukas installed her work and began to show and sell her creations with her brand.
So far, Kukas’ pieces were unique or edited in small productions. The need to expand her market and to increase production, and the eventual industrialization of certain objects led her to create the brand MBL – Jewellery and Objects, Ltd., which ensured the serial production and in materials that best suited the function- ality of the objects she designed. The creator complained about the fact that the metal craftsmen, with whom she usually worked, did not present many alternatives for the realization of her creations. With MBL, a partnership with her niece Sofia Moura Borges, Kukas’ production gained another dimension, and certain objects she produced, such as the pitchers of water, the butter dishes and the flower pots, were now produced in steel, a material which gave them a higher quality and dura- bility. The models were produced in limited series, in factories in northern Portugal, and were certified, numbered and stamped with the name “Kukas”. This produc- tion was distributed by some of the most thriving design shops, in the 1990s in Lisbon – such as Domo, Arte Bruta and Altamira. Kukas took part in fairs and exhi- bitions such as Espólio and Ceramex, in order to gain more public and disseminate a production that had now increased substantially. However, she states it was not possible to guarantee the level of production that the factories demanded for lack of financial infrastructure and logistics on her part, and was shortly afterwards forced to give this project up.
In 1999, she opened a new shop, which for the first time was exclusively run by her. The Municipality of Lisbon gave her a space on Rua de São Bento, which had been closed for over twenty years.
For about four years, Kukas resumed contact with her audience in a more direct manner, imprinting once again her stamp in a place that once more marked Lisbon due to its innovation and quality. Here, she brought together her world of creations and again gave her customers the possibility of accessing her work more easily. In the late 1990s, she believed she had reached a wider and younger public than in previous decades: “So far, only a limited number of people had been interested in my pieces, people who were connected to Modern Art, to Design … People who are a minority in Portugal, for education reasons. With this space, I think I have access to a more diverse audience. Today, there is a new layer of people, mostly young people who have evolved, who have the purchasing power and who like my work.” (33)
It was a space that exuded her aura, to which she completely dedicated herself and where she installed her entire collection. In it she sought to reveal the current iden- tity of her pieces, “I am increasingly turning to the monochrome. […] When deco- rating the shop, I was concerned with this monochrome, to take advantage of the structure of origin, which was so beautiful and that allows for, by itself, multiple reads.” (34) A charismatic and emblematic space, where she was reborn after a period without ground. It was difficult when she was forced to close this last shop after a fire broke out on the last floor of the building and had to accept this debacle that struck at the height of her success – that ironically, through fire and water collapsed.
Since then, and to this day, it is in her house on the Castle Hill that she continues to create and receive her collectors and friends who, ceaselessly seek her to enjoy yet another creation. With the goldsmith with whom she currently works, Akhsar Jatievi (Peish, Geórgia), Kukas maintains the same creative coherence and ability to visualize the different motivations she records every day, working in a persistent and continuous manner.”
Curatorial text by Cristina Filipe, September 2011
In catalog of the exhibition Kukas: A cloud that collapses in rain
MUDE – Museu do Design e da Moda, Colecção Francisco Capelo
and INCM – Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda
Scientific design and coordination Cristina Filipe
Editorial coordination Rita Rodrigues
Institutional text Catarina Vaz Pinto
Essay Bárbara Coutinho, Cristina Filipe, Kukas
Graphic design Nuno Vale Cardoso + Nina Barreiros
Format 29×14,5cm \ 160 p.
3 VEIGA, Margarida – Introduction to the exhibition KWY, Paris 1958-1968. [S.l.]: Centro Cultural de Belém; Assírio & Alvim, 2001, p. 12.
4 Idem, Ibidem.
5 KUKAS in “Kukas – 52 Anos, 26 de Actividade”, Revista Elle, April, 1989, p. 127.
6 The great changes were taking place in Central and Northern Europe – more precisely in countries like Holland, Germany and
the UK – and in the USA.
7 fILIPE, Cristina – A Joalharia de Autor em Portugal nos Anos 60 do Século XX. In SOUSA, Gonçalo de Vasconcelos and, coord. – Matrizes da Investigação em Artes Decorativas. Porto: CITAR, 2010, p. 113.
8 Journal of Thought and Action – Time and Mode
9 FILIPE, Cristina – A Joalharia de Autor em Portugal nos Anos 60 do Século XX. In SOUSA, Gonçalo de Vasconcelos e, coord. – Matrizes da Investigação em Artes Decorativas. Porto: CITAR, 2010, p. 145.
(10) Idem, Ibidem, p. 146.
11 Master Goldsmith António Jordão initially worked in the House of Leitão & Irmão, later founding his own workshop in 1960. It was in the latter at an early stagethat Kukas made her pieces. for many years, around thirty, he was the Teacher and Head of the Jewellery Department at the António Arroio Art School.
12 Branca de Brito was, at the time, the brand that sold to the upper middle class of Lisbon. It was until then considered the Portuguese brand of prestige that guaranteed a type of Jewellery that although classical, bet on unique pieces and more modern models than usual. Kukas also emerged as an alternative to this type of jewellery still attached to established prejudices and clichés.
13 Mestre Jordão in Interview with Mestre Jordão conducted by Cristina Filipe, January 20, 2011, Lisbon.
14 After master Jordão, Kukas worked with goldsmith Manuel Pinto de Lima, still in the 70s, then in the 1980s with the workshop Acácio fernandes & filhos Lda , in the 90s with the goldsmith José Pedro, and in recent years with goldsmith Akhsar Jatievi.
15 FILIPE, Cristina – A Joalharia de Autor em Portugal nos Anos 60 do Século XX, Matrizes da Investigação em Artes Decorativas, coordination by Gonçalo de Vasconcelos e Sousa, Universidade Católica Portuguesa. Porto: CITAR, 2010, p. 139.
16 IDEM, Ibidem.
17 IDEM, Ibidem.
18 IDEM, Ibidem.
30 Kukas Jewellery and Objects
31 fIADEIRO, Maria Antónia, in interview with Kukas. Máxima magazine, September 1989.
32 MADE IN appeared in Alenquer in 1985 as a project of artists Cristina Ataíde, José Pedro Croft, António Campos Rosado and João Taborda in partnership with fLAD – Luso-American Development foundation, and promoted marble sculpture and design. It worked actively until the end of 90s. The founders in addition to producing their own work also produced pieces by other authors on commission.
33 Kukas in “Kukas Imaginação sem Limites”, interview conducted by Carla Rodrigues. revista do jornal Semanário, July 4, 1999.
34 IDEM, Ibidem.