Remembering Attai Chen – Art Jewelry Forum

Born in Jerusalem, the internationally renowned jewelry maker and artist Attai Chen received his undergraduate degree from the Belazel Academy of Art and Design. After graduating, he moved to Munich, where he studied under Otto Künzli at the Academy of Fine Arts. Chen received numerous awards including the Herbert Hofmann Prize (2011), the Oberbayerischer Prize for Applied Arts (2012), and the Andrea M. Bronfman Prize for the Arts (2014). His jewelry can be found in many museum and private collections worldwide. Chen is survived by his partner of 15 years, Carina Shoshtary, as well as his mother, father, stepfather, and two sisters. AJF offers its sincere condolences to all who knew him. The jewelry field has lost an extraordinary talent.

AJF welcomes additional remembrances from the community. Please submit yours here; this page will continually be updated as we receive remembrances.

Attai Chen with one of his sculptures
Attai Chen with one of his sculptures, photo courtesy of Patti Bleicher

I am so proud and so grateful to have known Attai Chen—grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with him, to do projects, to participate in the evolution of his work.

Pars pro Toto was the title of the great exhibition I had the pleasure of hosting. A part for the whole. A part to represent the whole. When a part can no longer represent the whole, we lose the opportunity of a specific and precious point of view.

When that missing part is an artist, then we not only lose the man, we lose a suggestion, a chance to understand through his art the complexity of the whole. Thank you to Attai Chen for his suggestion, for his precious point of view. I will remember his beautiful work and his kindness.

—Antonella Villanova. Villanova’s eponymous gallery is located in Florence, Italy. Pars pro Toto, Chen’s solo exhibition there, took place October 16, 2021–January 22, 2022.

Attai Chen, Untitled
Attai Chen, Untitled, 2015, necklace, treated cellulose, paint, glue, silver, 10 ⅝ x 5 ⅞ x 3 ⅛ inches (270 x 150 x 80 mm), photo courtesy of Patti Bleicher

Fragile and at the same time ductile, perishable yet immortal, paper was the main medium used by Attai Chen in his artistic practice, which was based on a meticulous and tireless process of painting, cutting, assembling: cyclical gestures religiously perpetuated as a sort of mantra, as a sort of secular prayer from which a new vision recurrently blossoms.

An instinctive imaginative flow guided him in the creation of weightless, colorful, and dynamic high reliefs as well as micro wearable sculptural wonders, both pervaded by a sense of great exuberance yet dignified composure, and by a timeless poetic.

In Attai’s hands, paper also became a means to symbolize the cyclicality of life and of creation: the birth, the growth, the progressive decay, the transformation, and finally, in germ, the starting point for a new beginning.

Today, I would like to glimpse this moment as the beginning of a new eternal spring for Attai and for his exploration into the mystery of imagination, which he so discreetly investigated and respectfully managed to grasp. He gives us the legacy of his so sensitive and yet so wise approach to art and existence, searching for the enchantment in simplicity, the consistence in lightness, the “joy in labor,” the freedom in knowledge.

Blossom by blossom the spring begins. (Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Atalanta in Calydon”)

Attai’s art will continue to blossom (and to bless us) over here, over there, over time.

With respect and gratitude,

—Emanuela Nobile Mino. Nobile Mino is a professor of design history at University La Sapienza, Rome, and a deeply respected curator for contemporary art and design. She curated Pars pro Toto, Chen’s solo exhibition at Galleria Antonella Villanova.

Attai Chen, Kalishnikov Pendant, photo courtesy of Ursula Ilse-Neuman

The jewelry community has lost an exceptional human being and an artist of great originality and accomplishment.

Attai Chen was a sabra, or native Israeli, born in Jerusalem in 1979. His work was molded by his studies at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, under Otto Künzli. In 2007, Attai began living and working in Munich but maintained close ties with his family and his country.

His work often dealt with Israel’s enduring conflicts while rejecting a polemical/one-sided view in favor of a clear-eyed sense of justice and morality. He introduced Israeli-Palestinian tensions into his work in 2008 when he carved a brooch depicting the Israel Defense Forces’s D9 armored bulldozer, which is used to clear mines. His use of olive wood can be interpreted as a plea for peace, a commentary on the complicated use of the D9, which was also used to demolish the houses of Palestinians and wanted terrorists. The clash of cultures was also represented in his Kalashnikov Pendant (2008), in which entangled patterns formed by miniature rifles create an unresolved message, reflecting the complexity of the relationship.

I first met Attai in Munich in 2010, when he won the prestigious Herbert Hofmann Prize at Schmuck with a masterful necklace of recycled paper that is now part of the Susan Grant Lewin Collection at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in New York. The work represented the recycling theme that appears repeatedly in Chen’s work, in which new life emerges from decay.

While I was living in Israel a few years later, I knew that I had to include Attai in a project focused on Israel’s contemporary jewelry artists and their deeply felt political, social, and individual convictions. I chose his 2015 brooch in which an intentionally romanticized view of Arab villages clinging to the hillsides around Jericho belies the hidden hardships that were the everyday reality.

In Attai Chen, a rich and compassionate vision has been lost. We can treasure the brilliant sculptures and jewelry objects he produced, but only regret what directions his inventive mind might have explored.

—Ursula Ilse-Neuman. Ilse-Neuman is curator emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, where, as curator from 1992–2015, she organized more than 40 exhibitions in all media.

Work by Attai Chen
Work by Attai Chen, photo courtesy of Ursula Ilse-Neuman

My first encounter with Attai Chen had a providential quality. It was 2014, and I was in Israel, my first time in the country. Attai by then was living in Munich, but had just won the Andy Prize for Contemporary Art, offered by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. It just so happened that his opening coincided with my visit. Imagine my surprise when I walked into one of the most spectacular contemporary jewelry exhibitions I had ever seen, with custom casework setting off each delicate, charismatic creation, a field of secular reliquaries. I was also able to meet Attai in person, and was immediately taken by his thoughtful, quiet intensity. Here, clearly, was a pure artist who had found his medium—and was reimagining it.

That unexpected gift kept on giving in the decade since. In collaboration with Gallery Loupe, I had the opportunity to engage in a long-running conversation with Attai, one of those rich and sustaining dialogues that critics live for. We talked about many things: the way that perspective orders (and restricts) composition; the porous membrane between detritus and the Duchampian found object; theatricality, both in the sense of a proscenium stage and a psychological mindset; the strange way that fragility can summon a sense of imposing power. For me, it was an exchange shot through with magical insight, just like his work.

Attai’s passing, tragically young, represents an incalculable loss for the jewelry community. Suddenly, what we all thought was his early work is all there will ever be. We can’t help but wonder, in such a moment, about what wonders he would have gone on to create. Nor can we help but feel, deeply, the loss of such a beautiful soul. At the same time, we can be grateful for the small miracles he wrought. I hope all who read this set of remembrances of Attai will take a moment to hold one of his pieces, in the hand or in the mind, and say a quiet farewell—and thanks.

—Glenn Adamson. Adamson is a curator and writer who works at the intersection of craft, design history, and contemporary art. He has previously served as director of the Museum of Arts and Design; head of research at the V&A; and curator at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee.

Attai Chen, Untitled (5), from the Compounding Fractions Serie
Attai Chen, Untitled (5), from the Compounding Fractions Series, 2010, necklace, paper, paint, coal, glue, linen, 8 ⅛ x 5 ⅞ x 2 ⅞ inches (205 x 150 x 73 mm), Susan Grant Lewin Collection, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution

I was introduced to Attai Chen by his teacher and mentor, Israeli artist Vered Kaminski, who knew him as a student at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem. She told me that I had to meet Attai because his work was so impressive. At the time, Attai was a young and promising artist living in Germany and studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. In March of 2010, we met for drinks during Schmuck, at the International Trade Fair in Munich. I was immediately drawn to his work, seduced by the colors, materiality, and fabrication. I couldn’t wait to represent Attai, and he very soon became an integral part of Gallery Loupe.

Over the years there were several solo exhibitions, fairs, and artist talks. His work resonated deeply with all who had the privilege of experiencing it. Attai’s pieces are intricate narratives that intertwine colors, forms, and a unique sense of individuality. Each time we announced a new exhibition of his work, there was excitement. Attai’s pieces had the ability to captivate and engage, always sparking conversations and emotions. His talent was exceptional and his dedication to his craft was unyielding.

Personally, Attai was much more than an artist to me. He was a dear friend. I tend to ask a lot of questions, and Attai was always happy to talk about his work; we were never at a loss for conversation. Over the years, this led to a close personal bond. One especially fond memory is of Schmuck 2019, when Attai and I visited galleries and pop-ups together all over Munich for an entire week, hoping to find a venue for a future group exhibition featuring Attai, Kiff Slemmons, and Thomas Gentille. Little did we know that COVID would change everything, including the opportunity to present exhibitions for the next few years.

A life cut short is tragic. There was still so much more to come for Attai: a new body of work featured in a solo exhibition at Gallery Loupe; a monograph published by Arnoldsche Art Publishers, Stuttgart, with an essay by Glenn Adamson; and beyond that we’ll never know. As I reflect on Attai’s life and work, I am reminded of the vibrancy and vitality he brought to the gallery. The void left by his departure is palpable—but while he may no longer be with us in person, his work will continue to inspire, intrigue, and provoke thought, ensuring that his legacy endures.

—Patti Bleicher. Bleicher co-founded Gallery Loupe in 2006. The gallery, which focuses on contemporary art jewelry, is located in Montclair, NJ, US.

Attai Chen, Skipping AH Transceiver
Attai Chen, Skipping AH Transceiver, 2013, necklace, wood, pigment, silver, plastic, iron, brass, gold, 14 ¼ x 9 ½ x 2 ¾ inches (360 x 240 x 70 mm), photo courtesy of Patti Bleicher

A selection of collections that hold Chen’s work

Alice and Louis Koch Collection of Rings, Swiss National Museum, Zurich

Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (formerly Arkansas Arts Center), Little Rock, AR, United States

CODA Museum, Apeldoorn, Netherlands

The Donna Schneier Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Helen Drutt Collection, Philadelphia

Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Texas, United States

Museum of Arts and Design, New York

International Design Museum, Munich

Israeli Museum of Art, Jerusalem,

Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, Germany

Rotasa Collection Trust, California

Sanford and Susan Kempin Collection, New York

Susan Grant Lewin Collection, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

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