Museums

The Precious Gems Art History Forgot

by Alexander Cavaluzzo on September 28, 2011

Left to right, Jeff Koons's "Rabbit Necklace" (2005-2009), Alexander Calder's "Necklace" (1935) and Roy Lichtenstein's "Pendant" (nd) (all photos by Sherry Griffin, courtesy MAD) (click to enlarge)

Imagine strolling through clean, bright halls, surrounded by immaculate display cases filled with baubles and trinkets, the steam-polished precious metals and gems coruscating in the glare of spotlights. Hear your feet clacking on the white floors, stopping to look closer at the jewelry on display, but not close enough to stir the ire of the security guard peering over your shoulder. Imagine wanting everything you see, from diamond diadems to neon-tubed necklaces. No, you’re not in Tiffany’s or Cartier, you’re in the Museum of Arts and Design, gazing at their new show, Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler.   

Diane Venet has amassed a comprehensive collection over the years of wonderful works of adornment forged by the hands of the West’s most celebrated fine artists. Lending her treasures to the Museum of Arts and Design this fall, Venet has curated an exceptional breadth of work typically excluded from the art historical canon. With selections from Giorgio de Chirico to Man Ray, most of the jewelry on display was never mass-produced, rather made as labored-over tokens of affection or admiration.

Their relative obscurity doesn’t occlude the immediate recognition of an artist’s aesthetic. Salvador Dali’s “Ruby Lip” (ca. 1940s), a brooch modeled after a luscious mouth studded with red precious stones, inlaid with rows of pearls representing teeth is extremely evocative of the surrealist’s style. Similarly, Roy Lichtenstein’s pendants and brooches use his signature primary colors and comic book graphic aesthetic. Even Andy Warhol’s “Time 5” (1988), a watch boasting five faces, seamlessly connects to his numerous silk-screened images.

This connection solidifies the works on display as part of the oeuvre of important 20th Century artists, small-scale sculptures and paintings meant to hang around a neck or a wrist instead of a wall. The crossover and questionable relationship these objects have to masterpieces like Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon” (1907) and Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God” (2007) leave a lot of room for interpretation, most importantly in relation to the key idea of the entire exhibition: intimacy.

Because they were not grand, public presentations of vision and talent, these cultural artifacts allowed the wearer to embody art and all it signifies. What does it mean to wear a charm bracelet of prescription medication (Damien Hirst, “Pill Charm” [2004]) or a velvet rabbit brooch in International Klein Blue (Yves Klein, “Blue Velvet Bunny Brooch” [1956])? It adds a new dimension to personal and artistic expression that continues the rapidly expanding dialogue on the state of the arts and craft.

Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler is on display now at the Museum of Arts and Design (2 Columbus Circle, midtown Manhattan) until January 8, 2012.

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  • Will Brand

    “Time 5″ was from 1988? Didn’t Warhol die in 1987? Is this more Don Killuminati or R U Still Down?

  • http://twitter.com/AleksandrJohn Alexander Cavaluzzo

    Yes Will, Warhol did die in 1987, however the object label dated it “1988″. My guess is it was released after his death (well, that’s not so much a guess.) http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5209636

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