PARIS — The art collector Diane Venet, who is married to the conceptual sculptor and painter Bernar Venet (together they organize the Venet Foundation), has been collecting artists’ jewelry for over 30 years as a poetic form of memoir governed by the dynamics of her desire. After touring the world, her impressive collection of 200-plus highly enjoyable, cute, small, wearable artworks by luminaries of modern art is finally back home, on Parisian turf.
The exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts), called De Calder à Koons, bijoux d’artistes. La collection idéale de Diane Venet (Diane Venet’s Ideal Collection of Artists’ Jewelry), showcases Venet’s collection, augmented with loans (thus the “ideal”). Its precious staging — the items are displayed using pin-spot thematic wall bays as opposed to common horizontal glass vitrines — presents the jewelry in a manner that announces it as Art, while the pieces are well served by the lucid, chronological, and thematic presentation.
Bijoux d’artistes also provocatively pairs this art-jewelry treasury with sculptures, weavings, paintings, photographs, tapestries, and ceramics, which poses a vociferous problem: Bijoux d’artistes is undeniably a pleasurable experience to take in, but it is also troubling, as it blurs the intellectual line shielding art from decadent trivialization. There seems to be an intellectual paradox here: conceptualism opened up art to any and all forms of production, but luxury markets are where inventive concepts go to die. Arguably, this display is pleasurably guilty of pole vaulting “art” into the category of fashionable, high-end luxury products: art à la mode.
So Diane Venet’s charming, passionate, and tasteful collection of art jewelry poses a challenge to those who take art theory seriously — and worry about production that twirls art into the land of luxury lifestyles. But she herself, and her intentions for the collection, must be taken seriously. Once an art journalist, Venet has an impeccable art pedigree. Hailing from a French family of avid modern art collectors, her father, Jacques Segard, was for several years the President of the Friends of the Musée national d’Art Moderne in Paris. Kudos to her for also highlighting the fabrication studios behind the big names, including François Hugo, Arnaldo Pomodoro, and Giancarlo Montebello.
Entering Diane’s show of beloved personal ornaments swiftly plops you within her intimate emotive sphere with the presentation of Bernar Venet’s “Ring Ligne indeterminee” (“Indeterminate Line Ring,” 1998), the silver band that launched her burgeoning obsession with artist-made jewelry. Bernar, the subject of a prestigious retrospective at Musée d’art contemporain in Lyon this fall as well as a show focusing on his conceptual period at Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain in Nice, was instrumental in initiating this collection: Diane’s passion for artists’ jewelry began with Bernar winding a simple silver band around her left ring finger as a wedding ring. This ring starts the show off; it is paired with one of Bernar’s minimal spooled steel sculptures, which shares the same basic form as the ring.
In addition, Diane has amassed some wonderfully gestural pieces by such well-known artists as César, Anish Kapoor, Alberto Giacometti, Sonia Delaunay, Max Ernst, Daniel Spoerri, Niki de Saint Phalle, Roy Lichtenstein, Kiki Smith, Jeff Koons, Claude Viallat, Takis, Jean Arp, Andy Warhol, André Derain, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Damien Hirst, and Jean Cocteau. Many of these works (which often reflect the artists’ signature formal languages) were obtained by painstakingly hunting at auction houses, dealers, and homes of private collectors. Others were made specifically for her. With a sense of presumed aesthetic equality, her stylishly éclectique collection performs as a kind of overview of “name-brand” art from the past decades.
Though most of the pieces are tiny spin-offs of familiar artworks, the bracelets, brooches, pendants, rings, and cufflinks have the compressed power of artistic maquettes. I could visualize the potential for large-scale pieces in many of them. However, the radical shift in scale backfires in some cases, suggesting an artist’s full-scaled abstract sculpture as little more than monumental bling bling.
Complex Op abstract sculptures like those of François Morellet and Frank Stella suffer the most from this revelation — their sculptures appear as cumbersome decorative design within this context — while nimbly audacious Surrealists, ever in opposition to oppressive platitudes, seem to bear the different scale and context best. Indeed the show’s preeminent pieces for me were outlandishly dreamy necklaces: for instance, the one Roberto Matta made from odd mother-of-pearl fragments and gold wire for his second wife, Germana Ferrari, charged with fantastic, eccentric, savage energy; Alexander Calder’s majestic “Seven Spirals” (1940), which he wound and riveted himself; Giuseppe Penone’s elegant, swinging “Collier” (“Necklace,” 2011); and, especially, Louise Bourgeois’s audacious “Collier” (“Necklace,” 1948), a silver rhinestone choker of exceptional emotional power that critiques female servitude by evoking an elegant instrument of bondage and humiliation.
My other favorite pieces include Salvador Dali’s transgressive “Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket” (1936) — so crazy it captivates — and Lucio Fontana’s concetti spaziali “Bracelet Ellipse Concetto Spaziale” (1967), which is supposed to break physical and metaphysical dimensional limitations, but is here reduced to a tiny, deep-pink elliptical surfboard (so cute), and his beautifully shining, poked gold “Broche Concetto Spaziale” (circa 1962). Alberto Giacometti’s remarkable “Broche Sphinge” (circa 1935) has pleasingly mythical quality, and I found myself fascinated with Man Ray’s “Boucle d’oreille, Pendentif pendant” (1970), at miniature of his “Lampshade (Abat-jour)” (1919/1954) kinetic sculpture hanging nearby, as well as his better known golden ass / inverted cross “Hommage” (1973).
Nearly everything Pol Bury did in jewelry is a wonderful visual bacchanal, as is a crunched Robert Rauschenberg pin from 1990. Timid and sober are two modest Sol LeWitt cross-hatched rings from 2000, while Claude Lévêque’s necklace “Venin” (“Venom,” 2014) is sassy and telling: By celebrating in gold the poisonous substances secreted by snake and spider bites, and scorpion stings, Lévêque gets to the point of what makes art jewelry problematic, and the point is sharp. When art can be pinned to a pullover, the briefest glance around the society of the spectacle is enough to remind us that some of this collection’s intellectual and aesthetic limitations are also, sociologically, among its attractions. As Theodor Adorno said, “People know what they want because they know what other people want.” But the best of Diane Venet’s collection supersedes mass materialism and strikes a balance between the inspirational heights of artistic contemplation and the fantastic pleasure of just showing off.
De Calder à Koons, bijoux d’artistes. La collection idéale de Diane Venet continues at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France) through September 9.
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