Opening a space in Brussels dedicated to artists-cum-jewellery makers requires a certain amount of confidence, considering the risk: those who design one-off pieces aren’t necessarily known by a wider audience. About five years ago, Caroline Van Hoek took up the challenge and opened her own gallery in Ixelles to showcase her passion for the craft. We sat down to talk about why she decided to expand her space upwards, how she chooses the artists she collaborates with and her take on jewellery itself.
Why did you decide to open a new floor upstairs?
It got to a point where I was working with more artists each year and there wasn’t enough room for any of them. I thought it’d be a good idea to open another floor upstairs, presenting more exclusive pieces. Clients come in by appointment only and it feels more intimate that way.
How do you make a distinction between the first and the second floor?
Downstairs is more conceptual, with artists who are pushing boundaries, using unusual materials and expressing their creativity. The upstairs space features mostly gold, with pieces that are more substantial and expensive. You need the right environment to sell them.
What do you offer artists who decide to work with you?
Artists will not come to you just to sell what they create. They also expect you to take their work in a specific direction, to promote it and help them grow. I guess it’s similar to the kind of function an agent has. You make sure they’re included in the right shows abroad and that their pieces are showcased to the people who will be interested in them. It’s important that museums notice their work, too, which may lead to a sale.
Do you travel extensively throughout the year?
Yes, I do. You cannot stay in your gallery and wait for a sale to happen. Even though I’m Brussels-based, I go to London, Paris and Miami to make sure artists get the visibility and exposure they need.
There are a few galleries located around here. Was it key for you to find the right location?
Definitely. It was fundamental for me to have a space in an area with other art galleries. When it comes to jewellery, you need to make a distinction between several fields, whether it be designer pieces, costume jewellery or artists using this medium, such as, for instance, Picasso or Tracey Emin. It didn’t make sense being in a commercial area, surrounded by retailers.
How would you define the pieces you select?
Like little works of art. Some pieces can be worn, but others are more like objects or installations. There are no boundaries when it comes to artists being innovative and pushing their own research.
What was your first encounter with jewellery? Can you remember it?
I was never interested in jewellery when I was younger. I remember seeing my mother wearing precious stones and gold, which I found ridiculous, to be honest.
Did you reject the idea of jewellery as a status symbol?
I guess I did. I didn’t understand why people used jewellery to flaunt their status. It was tacky, really.
It’s the emotion artists put into their work that makes all the difference.
What’s the difference with artists making jewellery then?
It’s the emotion they put into their work that makes all the difference, whether they use wood, paper, metal or plastic. It’s about the personal value of a piece. That was the hook for me in the first place, and what really made me feel like wearing jewellery.
Are you attracted by the conceptual aspect?
Yes, I am. When you wear these items, it’s more of an intellectual choice than a material thing.
How do you select new artists?
It’s a very personal process. I trust my instincts and go for what I love. I am limited in terms of space and cannot represent too many artists at once. I only choose the ones I really like and that’s it. Of course, I follow what’s going on and listen to people’s recommendations. A lot of it is word of mouth.
We saw you write a column for Surface magazine. What’s it about?
I write about artists making jewellery. It’s not published monthly, as I don’t think this is something people want to read about on a monthly basis!
Do you enjoy doing it?
Absolutely. The challenge is to describe the work of an artist to a larger audience. A lot of aspects are obvious for me, but they’re not for my readers. You need to put things into perspective. This is what I enjoy doing and it forces me to look at what I do in a completely different way.
Can you tell us about some upcoming projects?
I’m at the Saatchi Gallery in London this week, in a group show named “Collect” which focuses on the applied arts. I will also present selected pieces by German artist Beate Klockmann from the 24th of May until the 30th of June.
Are there jewellery collectors in Belgium?
Yes, of course. Collecting jewellery has nothing to do with gender either, as men also come to my gallery to purchase pieces. I read recently that Karl Lagerfeld has a large collection of pieces by Suzanne Belperron, an iconic French jewellery designer. He never wears them, but having them around is probably enough.