While Miami Art Week is looking a little different this year, some galleries went full steam ahead and presented thought-provoking, innovative exhibitions. One of those galleries is Ornamentum Gallery.
Up In Smoke is yes, you guessed it about cannabis. Based in Hudson, New York, Ornamentum Gallery thought it ‘High Time’ for such an exhibition, so it asked a group of the most significant studio artists and designers from within and outside their gallery stable to approach the topic. Themes of ceremony, titillation, political caricature, humor, and appropriation emerge in the artists’ works, which also reflects their signature styles and technical skills. Participating artists include Gijs Bakker, Ralph Bakker, David Bielander, Laurene Leon Boym, David Clarke, Aaron Decker, Karl Fritsch, John Iverse, Jiro Kamata, Anders Ljungberg, Tiff Massey, Ted Noten, Gerd Rothmann, Philip Sajet, and Petra Zimmermann.
We caught up with Stefan Friedemann, founder of Ornamentum, to discuss the show, the process of selecting these artists, and of course, cannabis. *This interview has been edited for length and clarity*
AZ: How did the idea of Up in Smoke come to fruition?
SF: It has been simmering in my head for a couple of years as we slowly see the states embrace decriminalization. I’ve always loved small functional object design objects. At home, I enjoy sipping whiskey from a beautiful Jensen glass. I recognize that my preferred vice is far more dangerous than the one the federal government classifies as a schedule 1 substance, such a ridiculous example of government overreach. Old white men putting the force of law behind their prejudices.
Some time ago, I read an article about collectors of paraphernalia that the makers catering to them are few, and frankly, many of the products I saw, while possibly complex to create, were gaudy and tasteless. This is changing in the industrial product design/museum store object marketplace. Still, I haven’t seen much in the lines of interesting one-off high-quality artist work/design being publicized. It got me thinking that this was a subject that would be interesting to pursue.
So we decided to move ahead with the exhibition concept. First gauging the artists’ reactions from our gallery roster, and then asking a few notable names from outside our representation.
AZ: What was your process in selecting the artists for this exhibition?
SF: I wanted to have a thoughtfully curated selection of works for the exhibition’s first iteration. I am personally very wary of many theme exhibitions held in museums and galleries that look to packing in as many artists as possible so that no individual artist is promoted. I wanted to limit the show and ask different artists who I thought would really add something to the exhibition, each with a different niche to cover. Everyone seemed excited by the project. Some are smokers themselves, others not. One artist who does not partake spent time with his adult son and friends who are cannabis connoisseurs for research. Japanese jeweler Jiro Kamata was excited to make his first larger object. I think the exhibition had the artists explore the concept of what cannabis culture is, and they had a lot of fun running with it. And the results are phenomenal.
AZ: Tell us about Ornamentum, how has running a gallery during a pandemic affected your business?
SF: Ornamentum was founded in 2002, by my wife Laura Lapachin and myself, as a platform for mostly very non-traditional contemporary jewelry. We tend to have a European leaning as we lived and studied as makers/designers ourselves in Germany during the ’90s, but our perspective is always evolving. Over the years, we have also grown to deal in object art, design, and wall artworks. In 2008 we became the first gallery of our kind to exhibit at the Design Miami fair, together with the world’s most important design galleries. This really broadened the exposure both for the gallery and the field(s) we are representing.
2020 has been a challenge for numerous reasons, including COVID-19. Our doors were shut for three months. Of course, we are thankful that we came to Hudson in 2002, before it had started booming, and our gallery is in a building we own rather than paying rent. That made those months much more palatable, and we sympathize with the businesses who aren’t in that situation, many who are closing or have already closed.
In the long run, it seems that COVID-19 may be a boom to business in Hudson, as there has been a mass exodus from NYC. Once people were comfortable shopping again, it got jam-packed in town, and for better or for worse depending on what angle you are looking at, real estate has gone crazy in our area.
In regards to the exhibition, once we decided to put the exhibition together, I asked the artists to work toward the theme, even as we were unsure about whether our planning would have to shift due to COVID-19.
The artists pulled it together, some having production processes taking longer than anticipated or running into shipping delays as COVID-19 has made nothing run as usual.
AZ: With cannabis legalization looming, what do you hope viewers take away from this exhibition?
SF: Shit, this quote by Lenny Bruce is from 1965; “Marijuana will be legal someday, because the many law students who now smoke pot will someday become congressmen and legalize it in order to protect themselves.”
But we are still not there. It does seem that we are finally getting there after countless lives were ruined, especially in the Black and Brown communities. The hypocrisy, especially from (but certainly not limited to) the political spectrum that claims to want smaller government but legislates morality to control citizens’ bodies in numerous ways, is astounding. They are finally getting called out on it, and hopefully, our new leaders make good on the promise to decriminalize.
I don’t see an exhibition as leading to change, but responding to it. I hope that we can begin to elevate the market from the “hippie and black light” art to show that it can be a theme that is approached conceptually and thoughtfully with quality well.
AZ: If you had to choose one of the works to smoke out of, which one would it be and why?
SF: At the end of 2020 I think it would have to be David Bielander’s Club as I’m ready to be knocked out for a while 🙂
AZ: What’s next for the gallery?
SF: We will keep moving along. We deal in a medium with a growing collector base. Still, we are not always appreciated by those who tend to let branding and fashion dictate their purchasing over concept and uniqueness, which can be a challenge. We keep trying to evolve in ways that excite us; otherwise, we get bored, which wouldn’t be good for anyone including the artists we represent or our collector base.
I can see further iterations of Up In Smoke coming about, especially as momentum for legalization grows. I’m in talks with Adriana Kertzer, aka @jewwhotokes about combining forces to put something larger together, whether a commercial or museum event is left to be seen. Combined, we could showcase both the studio artist and quality commercial design together. I’m excited to see what transpires in the short and long run.
Images // courtesy of Ornamentum
top image // Aaron Decker