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Jaan Elken about A-Gallery

Jaan Elken in the book A-galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*

* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”

Twenty years is time unit, which can be compared to a grain of sand on the eternal axis, but in Estonian scenery of art galleries it is a significant experience and age. On May 10, 1994 A-Gallery opened the doors at its first address – Hobusepea 2. Could these courageous women and men, who put the money needed for share capital into common sack, positioning themselves as entrepreneurial applied artists, anticipate at that time, what was waiting for all of us operating in the art field – both good and bad? It was a period of bright optimism, in spite of limited material possibilities. Common operation as a working method was almost contempted in the beginning of nineties, first years of capitalist realism. Things were different with making business – we remember the spectrum of emotions caused by the term „sales exhibition“, which returned also to the vocabulary of fine artists. Management of a gallery and communication with the target group of their creation was more natural for applied artists with more practical attitude. We can call jewellery items and author’s jewellery consumer-oriented applied art in the most archaic and pure sense of the term. Name does not spoil the content, I have always admired, even envied, the openness and concentration on the consumer programmed in the activities of applied artists. Even without the rules of creative industry these methods and channels of self-realisation seem to be more honest and rational.

A grotesque summary: in last twenty years a generation has been developed in Estonia with the support of the Cultural Endowment, who has established their existence on state benefits. The art created by the people with above mentioned world view and lifestyle seems to exist independently from broad audience, recognition inside the group is usually sufficient for them. Antipode of the carriers of such mentality would be artist types motivated by market forces and turnover (with extremely limited volume in Estonian environment), production mills of applied art, whose operation is marketed to artists and promoted in the society by the Ministry of Culture and Enterprise Estonia under the sign of “creative industry”. In reality these extreme positions are relatively rare in the field guide of artist types; variety of species of artist types can be seen also on authors’ stands of A-Gallery. Similarly to retail trade (where only department stores and retail centres, not single shops, can ensure abundance of brands for a conscious consumer), initial overview of the items presented in the showcases of A-Gallery causes temporary confusion due to the multitude of different styles, but when circumstances coincide, it will lead to finding “own” jewellery. A-Gallery is really a miniature, but specialised department store of art, a genuine “ladies’ delight”.

While an artist operating in the field of fine (radical) arts with critical, but demanding attitude considers pleasing somebody, which can lead to a financial-commercial transaction, almost a shame, the objective of work of an applied artist, especially an artist making author’s jewellery is to please. When determining the quality of work of a jewellery artist, we cannot avoid such words as “fashion”, trend”, “aesthetics”, “thinking in material”, “craft quality” and many other terms stigmatised by contemporary art science. In the highest ranks of contemporary art there are many overlapping discourses and conscious mixing of formats – an example can be the work by Damien Hirst, human skull covered with thousands of genuine brilliants, which excited art circles some years ago. Definition of a contemporary jewellery is all-time broad due to the crossing of borders and lack of prejudices, created hand in hand with contemporary art; the history reaching back to the primeval period is a powerful treasury providing support. We see, how the millennia-old symbols and forms are again in creative use, in a symbiotic relationship with futuristic ideas, trends and materials – from an amulet to high-class artefacts balancing on the border of non-wearability. Direct contact with potential consumers, which is only reinforced by the format of a store-gallery, has created to A-Gallery customers all over the world, audience (and further the purchasers), who will return and bring their friends along.

In the period of growth, when the first profitable years were passed, the A-Gallery group started to organise also a classical gallery specialised on non-profit applied art. After moving into larger rooms (almost 100 square meters) located in the other edge of the registered immovable owned by the Artists’ Association on the corner of Pikk and Hobusepea streets in 2005 they attempted to manage HOP gallery as a project gallery. In 2006 HOP joined the family of galleries of Estonian Artists’ Association, now being there the smallest gallery with independent exhibition programme with total area of 35 square meters.

But A-Gallery did not surrender – already in 2007 a small project space was opened right in the heart of the gallery, in the former metal safe intended for storage of precious metals. The safe enables to concentrate on a separate artist, to bring new people to the gallery. In the Safe I have seen also forged iron items and material-based art related only indirectly to applied art.

Social experience of a youngster in twenties presumes that main benchmarks and further circle of interests may be chosen, but the best years are still ahead. Good luck and success!