Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry
September 27, 2008 - May 31,2009
The Museum of Arts & Design
On view from September 27, 2008 through May 31, 2009, the "Elegant Armor" exhibition explores the inspirations for contemporary jewelry, including the fine arts, the human form and the natural world. Featuring over 130 works from 1948 to the present, Elegant Armor draws from the Museum’s collection of approximately 450 modern and contemporary works, the entirety of which will be housed in the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery in publicly accessible study drawers.
Holly Hotchner, director of MAD, noted, ”We’re very grateful to our partners at the Tiffany & Co. Foundation for their support in establishing this facility as an innovative international resource center dedicated to the presentation and study of contemporary jewelry. It will be a significant addition to MAD and to the field alike. The Museum’s commitment to collect and display the finest of contemporary work will give the artists in the field a presence in the New York art scene. Our new jewelry center will be an important destination for New York’s culture and fashion communities.”
Since its founding in 1956, the Museum has had a distinguished history of interpreting the cultural significance of modern and contemporary jewelry,” said Ursula Ilse-Neuman, Curator of Contemporary Jewelry, who organized Elegant Armor. “Our permanent collection of jewelry and innovative exhibition programming have served to highlight the work of both established and emerging artists from around the world. MAD’s collection explores the range of concepts, materials and techniques that make contemporary jewelry one of today’s most visually exciting art forms.”
"We are pleased to have funded the creation of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery, which embodies the Foundation's mission to enhance the appreciation of jewelry as an art form," said Fernanda M. Kellogg, president of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. "Through an innovative program of exhibitions and by establishing the gallery as a research center, we hope to support the Museum's efforts to educate and inspire both emerging artists and all those who have an interest in jewelry."
The diverse collection—with styles ranging from minimal to theatrical, and materials from the everyday to the opulent—presents major themes in contemporary jewelry. The exhibition is divided into four sections: Sculptural Forms, Narrative Jewelry, Painted and Textured Surfaces, and Radical Edge.
Many prominent artists give primacy to pure form, creating jewelry that functions as small sculpture, on and off the body. These works range from minimalist, biomorphic and organic, to kinetic jewelry and pieces informed by architecture and engineering.
Minimalist works include the celebrated 1967 Armband by Gijs Bakker as well as Emmy van Leersum and Linda MacNeil’s 1995 geometric necklace of mirrored glass and gold, a significant recent acquisition of the Museum. Eva Eisler is an artist whose work is influenced by engineering and architecture, as in the 1990 Brooch from her “Tension Series,” which resembles a diminutive modern bridge. Important early examples of sculptural jewelry by pioneers in the studio jewelry movement include Art Smith’s 1948 brass neckpiece, and Margaret de Patta’s surprising kinetic brooch from 1947.
American jewelry artists are especially renowned for incorporating narrative content in their wearable pieces. In addition to using signs and symbols, stories and legends, and sociopolitical messages, narrative jewelry can also include images inspired by nature or the human body. Pioneering American studio jewelry artist Sam Kramer’s surrealist-inspired 1958 Roc Pendant draws on elements from the subconscious. African-American artist Joyce Scott’s Voices neckpiece of 1993 comments on social injustice; its beaded faces have closed silenced mouths.
Painted and Textured Surfaces
Some artists move beyond classic silver and gold to achieve brilliant color in their pieces by inlaying metals, enameling, or using stones or beads. Earl Pardon’s 1979 Necklace and Jamie Bennett’s 1988 Aiuola Brooch reflect a painterly approach to the use of enamel. Colored stones also add chromatic interest. Native American contemporary jewelry pioneer Charles Loloma uses brilliant turquoise in his Bracelet from 1968. Bernd Munsteiner of Germany combines gold with deep blue lapis lazuli in his Brooch/Pendant of 2001.
Texture also impacts the viewer and wearer of these works: Italian artist Gio Pomodoro’s 1963 Brooch has a multi-layered surface of white and yellow gold. And for her 2000 Bracelet, Tone Vigeland, Norway’s premiere art jeweler, joined hundreds of individually hammered steel beads to create an object that moves and changes when worn.
Many works in the Museum collection are conceptual in nature. Some are created with a theatrical intent to stand alone as sculptures. Germany master jeweler Otto Künzli’s Gold Makes You Blind is a simple black rubber bracelet that covers and entirely hides a nugget of pure gold from the viewer. Mary Ann Scherr, an influential leader in the American studio jewelry movement, investigated the potential relationship between jewelry and medicine in her 1974 Electronic Oxygen Belt, a neck pendant with electronic components and an oxygen mask hidden inside. Germany’s Ulrike Bahrs’ brooch from 2000 combines the fine materials of gold, silver, and garnets with holography to create a mysterious fleeting image. American innovator Stanley Lechtzin used rapid prototyping stereo-lithography to make his 1999 Plus-Minus Brooch, while his partner Danielle Kerner’s 1999 Mag-Brooch was made with selective laser sintering in DuraForm polyamide joined by rare earth magnets.
Ursula Ilse-Neuman, a curator at the Museum of Arts & Design since 1992, has organized numerous exhibitions at MAD, including GlassWear (2007); Corporal Identity: Body Language (2004), in collaboration with the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt Germany; Treasures from the Vault (2004); Zero Karat: The Donna Schneier Gift to the Museum of Arts & Design (2002); and Radiant Geometries: Fifteen International Jewelers (2001). She has been instrumental in expanding the Museum’s focus on contemporary jewelry design. She has organized numerous exhibitions in all the traditional decorative arts media, written extensively for catalogues and magazines, juried many competitions and lectured widely.
In conjunction with the opening exhibition in its Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery, the Museum will present a colloquium on contemporary jewelry (date to be announced). The event will bring together experts from Rhode Island School of Design, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and SUNY New Paltz to discuss new directions in the field, with design presentations from students and young designers.
The Education Department, in conjunction with the grand opening of its new building, is also creating a series of public and educational programs designed to appeal to widely varying audiences, encompassing artists’ demonstrations in the Museum’s unique open studios, performances, workshops and lectures in the Museum’s new galleries, education center and auditorium.
The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery and its programming are being supported by The Tiffany & Co. Foundation through a grant of $2 million, the largest gift that the foundation has made since its inception in 2000. The gift follows a strong, ongoing commitment embraced by both the Tiffany Foundation and the Museum to preserve and promote excellence in craftsmanship and design.
About the Tiffany & Co. Foundation
The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, which awarded its first set of grants in 2000, provides support to nonprofit organizations dedicated to the education and preservation of the decorative arts and environmental conservation. For more information on The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, please visit www.tiffanyandcofoundation.org.
Museum of Arts & Design (MAD)
The Museum of Arts & Design is the country’s leading cultural institution dedicated to the collection and exhibition of contemporary objects created in a wide range of media, including clay, glass, wood, metal and fiber. The Museum celebrates materials and processes that are embraced by practitioners in the fields of craft, decorative arts and design. MAD’s distinguished permanent collection includes more than 2,000 objects by renowned artists and designers from around the world, representing many forms of creative expression and technical mastery. The Museum will move to a new 54,000 square-foot building at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan in September 2008. In its new home, designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, the Museum will be able to display works from its permanent collection in dedicated collection galleries for the first time in its history.
For additional information about the Museum of Arts & Design, visit www.madmuseum.org.