Images: Robert Lee Morris, Gong, 1987

Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry presents innovative pieces of contemporary art jewelry from our permanent collection, dating from the 1940s to the present. The works on display range from the subtle to the flamboyant, from the purely geometric to the organic, and from narrative to sculptural works that extend the limits of the human body. The exhibition presents the major themes, materials and techniques that make contemporary jewelry visually exciting and intellectually stimulating. Elegant Armor is divided into four major themes: Sculptural Forms, Narrative Jewelry, Painted and Textured Surfaces, and the Radical Edge.

Sculptural Forms Many prominent artists create jewelry that functions as small sculpture, on and off the body. These works range from minimalist, biomorphic and organic, to kinetic jewelry and pieces influenced by architecture and engineering. Minimalist works include the celebrated 1967 Armband by Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum and Linda MacNeil’s 1995 geometric necklace of mirrored glass and gold. Eva Eisler’s Brooch reveals the influence of engineering and architecture while Sergey Jivetin composes an intricate masterwork from hundreds of tiny watch hands. Important 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.

Narrative Jewelry American jewelry artists are especially renowned for the narrative content in their wearable pieces that tell a story, convey messages through signs and symbols, take sociopolitical positions, or include imagery inspired by nature or the human body. Pioneering American jewelry artist Sam Kramer’s 1958 Roc Pendant draws on elements from the subconscious. Verena Sieber-Fuchs commented on apartheid by using paper for wrapping fruit in South Africa in her visually arresting 1988 Apart-heid collar. The human hand is depicted figuratively in the 1992 Metamorfosi bracelet by Italian sculptor-jewelry Bruno Martinazzi and in the cast silver imprint of the artist’s own skin by German artist Gerd Rothman in his 1997 Palm Print Bracelet. The reaction against using precious metals to gauge the worth of jewelry is crystallized by Otto Künzli who hid a gold ball inside a rubber sleeve for his famous Gold Makes You Blind bracelet. The opposite of conspicuous consumption, this icon of twentieth-century jewelry uses symbols and ideas to outrank the value of tangible things.

Painted and Textured Surfaces Many works on display exult in eye-catching colors and textures, featuring the virtuoso enameling of Earl Pardon, William Harper and Jamie Bennett, the acrylic wonders of Peter Chang and the natural allure of stones from the brilliant turquoise of Native American Charles Loloma to the fantastic conglomeration of gold, topaz, tourmalines, sapphires and diamonds in Rami Abboud’s Omnipotent ring. Tone Vigeland, Norway’s premiere art jeweler, joined hundreds of individually hammered steel beads to create an object that moves and changes when worn.

The Radical Edge Many works in the Museum collection reflect the impact of technology on our lives. Mary Ann Scherr, a leader in the American studio jewelry movement, investigated the potential relationship between jewelry and medicine in her 1974 Electronic Oxygen Belt while Ulrike Bahrs combined the fine materials of gold, silver, and garnets with holography to create a mysterious fleeting image in her brooch. American innovator Stanley Lechtzin created other-worldly jewelry without touching it by using computer-aided design and manufacture in his 1999 Plus-Minus brooch, while Daniella Kerner made her 1999 Mag-Brooch with selective laser sintering in DuraFrom polymide joined by rare earth magnets.

An illustrated, full-color book accompanies the exhibition containing an insightful essay by curator of jewelry Ursula Ilse-Neuman and dazzling new photography of approximately two hundred pieces from MAD’s jewelry collection Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry is made possible in part by the generosity of The Tiffany and Co. Foundation.


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