WHEN ARTISTS CREATE WEARABLE MASTERPIECES:
Coco Chanel once said that “jewellery should not cause awe, but envy”. It is exactly this idea that stands behind the creation of artists’ jewellery, one-off/bespoke or limited-edition pieces created by some of the world’s greatest artists of both modern and contemporary times.
We had the pleasure of attending an Arts Club talk focused on this type of jewellery, with Louisa Guinness of Louisa Guinness Gallery, and the value and contribution that it brings to both the art and fashion world.
Art jewellery emphasizes creative expression and design, often characterised by the use of a variety of materials, not just precious metals and gemstones. With conventional jewellery, the value of each object is tied to the value of the materials used to make it. Art jewellery belongs to studio crafts, sharing beliefs and values that belong in the world of fine art and design – each item becoming a wearable work of art.
The beauty of artists’ jewellery is that it is never mass-produced. Most creations come in limited editions of ten, fifty, one hundred or thousand at most, while some are absolutely unique, one-off designs. Their value transcends the notion of money, where collectors look beyond the peppered price in order to own and (in most cases) wear jewels signed by legends such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali or Anish Kapoor, to name but a few.
Historically speaking, American modernist jewellery of the 1940s is considered to be the beginning of this fascinating phenomenon, followed by the artistic experiments of German goldsmiths in the 1950s. But many of the values and beliefs that artists’ jewellery thrives on seem to stem from the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century – an international current that drove the exchange of ideas, people and objects across national borders.
Artists’ jewellery is predominant in North America, Europe and Asia, while South America and Africa have also begun developing their own scene, putting together an infrastructure of teaching institutions, art jewellery galleries for dealers and dedicated museums.
The acceptance of jewellery as art was initially fostered in the United States right after the Second World War, afterwards expanding across Europe and Asia. Major museums such as New York’s MOMA and Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center held major artists’ jewellery-themed exhibitions during the 1940s.
Louisa Guinness Gallery has been a driving force for the collection and sale of rare artists’ jewellery, often teaming up to create unique and limited-edition pieces with some of the world’s most prominent contemporary artists, including Gavin Turk, Ron Arad, Conrad Shawcross and many more.
The gallery can often be seen exhibiting in globally recognized art fairs, but it’s always better to visit their London showroom, as most of these jewels are best seen “in the flesh”. Their exhibition programme is always on, showcasing their newest collaborations, as well as collected treasures from across the 20th century. For example, June 8th will see the opening of “Butterflies and Bijoux”, a new solo exhibition of Claude Lalanne.
Louisa Guinness Gallery’s portfolio has seen some incredible pieces throughout its years of activity, from Man Ray’s iconic mask to Lucio Fontana’s bracelets, Salvador Dalí’s eye and several superb Mariko Mori jewels.
It is often the case that art jewellers work in a conscious way with the history of this craft, establishing a different relationship between jewellery and the body – being able to wear art, then enjoy it exhibited in your own space is one of the perks of owning artists’ jewellery. There is less emphasis on material “preciousness” and more focus on “wearability” and “artistic value”, which is why so many artists have turned to creating jewels in the first place.
The critique of preciousness, on the other hand, is a term that describes the challenge of art jewellers to the idea that jewellery’s values is equivalent to the preciousness of its metal. This concept was quickly overcome and left behind when artists like Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim and Pablo Picasso turned to fashion as another channel to express their art.
Artists’ jewellery was often linked to modernist art movements in response to this aforementioned “critique of preciousness” – Biomorphism, Primitivism and Tachisme being excellent opportunities for art to exceed previously allocated boundaries and slip into jewellery design. After all, what is fashion without art?
Perhaps the greatest impact that artists’ jewellery has had on the modern world has been to look past the status and economic value, bringing new themes into the fold.
“First, the monetary value of the material becomes irrelevant; second, once the value of jewellery as a status symbol has been deflated, the relation between the ornament and the human body once again assumed a dominant position – jewellery became body-conscious; third, jewellery lost its exclusiveness to one sex or age – it could be worn by men, women and children,” wrote Peter Dormer in 1995.
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