Today, "precious stones" are mostly worked into jewellery or into gems. Masters of the Italian Renaissance also composed impressive pictures from hard stone elements ("pietre dure").
In this tradition, Dieter Lorenz and Bernd Munsteiner have created a large number of abstract works in recent years, which are being presented to the public together for the first time. Both pursue completely different artistic goals: While Munsteiner, as already in his sculptural work, now also discovers the natural ornament of crystal as a material of art in the two-dimensional picture, Lorenz's colourful abstractions between design and conceptual art reflect the zeitgeist of the late 20th century.
By Wilhelm Lindemann
It is not new that precious stones play a role in the jewellery exhibitions at Villa Bengel. Without a doubt, however, today's vernissage is the prelude to a real premiere. Not only because it is the first one in which mainly pictures are shown and which, moreover, have been designed using so-called precious stones as material. It is probably the first exhibition of pictures ever to be created from stones in the sense of a modern understanding of art.
If one disregards the ancient mosaics, the artistic genre on display here is more than half a millennium old: the technique of working precious stones into pictures or magnificent inlays of everyday objects was developed in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Florentine grand ducal workshops. After the decline of the Florentine and Prague schools, these techniques were generally imitated by modern epigones as a weak imitation on the verge of kitsch.
While the landscape agates that came into fashion in the 19th century were certainly able to inspire romantic reveries through the suggestive power of their natural pictorial structures, it was not until the 1960s/70s that the art of the Commesso experienced its modern flowering in the early work of Bernd Munsteiner, his agate paintings of the time. Munsteiner was the first to show with his abstract pictures of agates that the genre had not yet reached its artistic zenith with the end of the Italian princely courts in the late Renaissance and the Baroque and had come to the end of its creative possibilities. Munsteiner, however, did not pursue this path for decades and turned primarily to the sculptural treatment of transparent stones in a life's work that was to influence the design of precious stones on a global scale. It was only a little more than half a decade ago that Munsteiner returned to his beginnings with agate paintings in the context of work on two church windows - a joint project with his son Tom for the Protestant parish church in Stipshausen. Two of these pictures are on display in the exhibition. Munsteiner's early agate pictures could be understood as a transformation of the romantic idea of the landscape agate into abstraction, in which the picture tempts the viewer to make associations and thus offers itself to the viewer as a projection surface of his own psyche. The most recent group of works exhibited here reflects Munsteiner's life's work - and thus a decades-long practical and also theoretical process of coming to terms with crystal. The basic element, based on the "Platonic Solids", are tiny isosceles right-angled triangles made of agates in particular, but also of a multitude of other stones, which, joined together as commesso, on the one hand form a strict formal texture, symbolically forming the crystalline lattice structure, but on the other hand also form the contrasting formal framework for the dynamic interplay of Munsteiner's pictorial composition. Munsteiner thus, on the one hand, uses the language of art to open up a view of a nature that, on the other hand, presents itself to the viewer in its best adornment as an artwork of nature. Munsteiner thus carries out a spiritual change in the artist's relationship to nature: for him, art is fundamentally no longer the overcoming and domestication of nature through its transformation into a work of art, but rather actively appears in art in a partner role, as it were.
Even if Bernd Munsteiner is perhaps a little embarrassed, I place him in the ranks of the current art avant-garde with this artistic strategy - even if these pictures have something of classical modernism in formal terms at first glance. In fact, Munsteiner's completely changed relationship to the objects of nature is revolutionary. For him, they are no longer passive objects to be worked on by the artist, but rather coveted and revered partners in the artistic process - a position that would be understood as actants in the terminology of the contemporary ecological philosophy of Bruno Latour, for example, actors of a nature that has become a partner of man, In this context, I recall that Bernd Munsteiner already turned away from facet cutting in the 1960s, which he, as a trained gem cutter, understood as a violent technical appropriation of a natural object, before the invention of the green movement. And the "Club of Rome". If I thus give a political interpretation to the artistic work of Bernd Munsteiner, I must emphatically add that he is by no means a political wave rider jumping on a fashion. His attitude to nature and to stone is socialised to him with the like-minded attitude and reverence of the stone cutter and thus part of a fundamental humility in the face of an omnipresent cosmic nature.
Inspired by Munsteiner's return to the image, Dieter Lorenz turned to the mural after the closure of his company around 2017 due to illness. At this point, he had an internationally acclaimed career behind him as a designer of mostly abstract miniature sculptures, which were loved either as collectors' objects or as decorative elements.
At first glance, Dieter Lorenz seems to have a much more light-footed, almost cocky playful approach to the material stone. As in his sculptural work from the production of "Lorenz-Design", he seems to whistle consistently at all the principles of the gemstone industry. Thus, according to the motto "The work ennobles the material", he not only whistles at "expensive" lucid stones, optical cutting effects or "loupe purity"; mostly he even whistles at the "authenticity" of the material itself by opting for agates that come in strong colours according to ancient recipes. Stone is not only a natural object, but above all a cultural asset. On the other hand, it would be wrong to understand him as an autodidact or career changer in the gemstone scene with reference to his psychology studies and his first choice of profession, whose supposed lack of tradition in craftsmanship is due to this circumstance. The stark opposite is the case. Dieter Lorenz grew up, so to speak, in the engraving workshop of his father Werner, who was one of the most talented and innovative Idar-Oberstein engravers of his era. lorenz had already left the naturalistic tradition of Idar-Oberstein engravers in the early 1970s and tried - highly honoured with prizes and awards, for example, for a kinetic jewellery object in the style of Friedrich Becker, but economically less spoiled by luck - to find new ways of designing. Dieter Lorenz's first choice of profession was a conscious decision in knowledge of and critical engagement with traditional gemstone engraving. And yet he had also studied philosophy as a second subject with Theodor W. Adorno, the author of one of the most influential "aesthetic theories" of the late 20th century. Above all, Dieter Lorenz had learned to reflect with open eyes and a critical gaze not only on the relatively small and narrow world of the gemstone scene, but above all to receive the fresh winds of art, especially those of the American artists of the Pop era.
Thus "highly equipped" in terms of education, he took over the company after his father's death and reoriented it. If one looks at his work created during the time of the company, one must describe him as a realistic dreamer who knew how to realise his artistic fantasies in the "small form" of miniature sculpture - a fundamental decision for the market niche he chose in particular with very space-consuming miniature sculptures that were to make their way not only as collectors' items but also as decorative elements. His material was and remained - also in the current pictures - primarily agate, the inexpensive traditional stone of the Hunsrück gemstone region. When I speak of agate as the traditional stone in connection with Dieter Lorenz, I mean on the one hand the natural product of this mineral, which is banded wildly and in almost manneristic arbitrariness, but also agate as a cultural product dyed in all kinds of colours, which already played an economically supporting role in the mosaics of Roman antiquity and also in the relatively young history of gemstones in Idar-Oberstein as a material for engravers, but also in the industrial mass products of the 19th and 20th centuries. In his sculptural work, Dieter Lorenz thus clearly refers to this very down-to-earth tradition - a millennia-old tradition of coloured stone which, with few exceptions, was already disappearing during his lifetime and which he sought to revive as a "designerly" practice inspired by art. It is an artistic approach that he gave wings to at the end of his life in the paintings exhibited here.
Dieter Lorenz did not claim the title of artist for himself. Rather, he saw himself completely unpretentiously as a designer - which, in my opinion, he was most likely in some representational and less successful sculptural works. Even though he quite confidently developed an artistic language and style in his work, his modesty and reverence for art kept him from publicly "outing" himself as an artist until the end of his life. It is only in the design of the paintings that can be seen today that he formulates such an avowal as his testament through his work.
The exhibition shows a group of works by two artists from the gemstone region whose work has put the handling of the material gemstone on a new footing in the present and has definitely influenced it through its singularity. This is true even though the echo, especially in the gemstone industry of the home region, to which both felt connected despite all their international success, remained rather modest. Admittedly, the exhibits of both artists are abstract paintings. But both pursue completely different and even contrasting artistic goals and strategies. In order not to duplicate my texts in the exhibition catalogues - I introduce two autonomous works there - I will briefly outline the different working approaches of the two, also in the hope of motivating you to buy the double catalogue. Bernd Munsteiner's subject is the mineral, crystalline material itself. In his life's work, he has endeavoured in various ways to penetrate to the essence of the natural mineral and its peculiar aesthetic quality. Even if this only appears in a triangular texture in his last paintings, he pursues this goal in his current paintings as he did in his works with translucent stones. While in the three-dimensional lucid crystal Munsteiner makes nature visible as an aesthetic space of experience, in the two-dimensional picture, in the "cartouche" of a triangular surface element, he assembles the message of the material, once again reduced to itself - and at the same time, by assembling it into an artistic "commesso", he makes it the element of a tableau that makes the event of the material visually accessible to the viewer. His project turns against the reifying subjugation of nature through technical means. Rather, he brings nature to light in the work. Bernd Munsteiner's pictures thus become, as it were, the spiritual and artistic quintessence of his life's work, a subtle testimony to his lifelong spiritual penetration of the material and its traditional processing techniques, and at the same time the practical documentation of a journey of discovery, generated anew every day, to the material of nature, to its object through and in art.
While in Munsteiner's paintings the mineral material as the artwork of nature is taken as the starting point of artistic creation, Lorenz created artworks in which he - exceptionally sovereign - uses stones as an artistic material, and this again in such a refreshing way that seems completely free of the cult of gemstones that is common in this country. Unlike Munsteiner, he transforms nature into art - quite in the sense of a conventional art theory.
On site at the Jakob Bengel Foundation - (Corona-compliant therefore prior registration required via info(at)jakob-bengel.de)
or participate online via ZOOM: zoom.us/j/96188589670 - Admission from 18:15
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Gemstone designer Bernd Munsteiner talks about the fascination of gemstones.
(approx. 60MB, 26 minutes, in English)
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