Blurring the line between works of art and personal accessories, the objects in the Bass Museum of Art’s current exhibition From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler illustrate what happens when artists turn to jewelry as a medium. With over 230 objects by over 100 artists, the show presents a wide ranging survey of how artists have approached jewelry-making in the past century. Prominent artists such as Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois, Salvador Dali and Jeff Koons suggest that jewelry-making is quite common within artistic circles, but the motivations behind each and every piece couldn’t be more diverse.
The foundation of the exhibition is the private collection of its guest curator, Diane Venet, who has been collecting jewelry made by artists for over thirty years. Much of her collection stems from personal ties to specific artists, as exemplified by her brooch by American artist John Chamberlain, “who out of friendship offered [her] his first-ever piece of jewelry, a painted and crumpled piece of aluminum.” As we see today, jewelry often points to a specific connection between people.
What’s interesting about showing jewelry as art, though, is how each artist’s quintessential style shines through each work. With some pieces, like the aforementioned Chamberlain brooch, belt buckles by Calder and Koons’s rabbit necklace, the connection to each artist’s body of work is unmistakable. In these cases, the craft of jewelry can be seen as an extension of their practice. Other artists may treat jewelry as an entirely different mode of creating work, which is seen in Frank Stella’s ornate gold pieces. Whereas Stella’s vividly-colored, hardedge paintings of the 1950s and 60s earned him acclaim as one of the patriarchs of minimalism, his extravagant gold ring and necklace stand in stark contrast to his earlier work.
Working with Mrs. Venet on the exhibition, we eschewed much of the conventional forms of showing jewelry; instead, we attempted to create an environment that evokes unique connections between pieces of jewelry and the artists that made them. While the show progresses for the most part chronologically, the decisions to group pieces of jewelry in each case stemmed from formal and anecdotal reasons. For instance, in one case, a silver necklace by Anthony Caro is placed next to pendants by Max Ernst and a necklace by Wilfredo Lam—normally Caro’s work is not connected surrealist works like those of Ernst and Lam. One of the strategies in curating the show was to create diverse groupings of objects that would not normally happen in a typical museum exhibition.
Though the exhibition consists solely of jewelry, it provides a broad survey of the work of a number of prominent artists from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. Moreover, it shows that artistic practice rarely ever stops with painting and sculpture.
Be sure to save the date for a unique jewelry-making class happening on Friday, July 19 from 5-7pm during our new extended Friday hours.
2100 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach , FL, www.bassmuseum.org