Occasionally we are given a glimpse into the artist as mere mortal. The same men and women who produce art that is sold for millions at auction and are discussed and dissected for hours by scholars and the common man do, indeed, walk among us; and “From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler” is proof. The most admired and glorified modern and contemporary artists are also jewelers. Who knew? And this small, yet impressive, exhibition is a precious reminder that art need not take on static objectification. It also functions as a vehicle for personal expression and has the ability to accompany us, providing confidence and comfort, as we go about our day. Creative people, perceived geniuses, are not bound to the large canvas or the 2000 pound object; they can lend their attention to something as simple as a broche or charm bracelet. The ego is abandoned and yet another art form, as well as the creative process, is explored; such is the subtle power of art and its ability to transform those who observe and participate in its creation.
“From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler” is curated by French curator and jewelry collector Diane Venet. It is shown in three rooms, where pieces are placed in glass cases with subtle lighting. Objects are grouped together according to movement, style, or materials, among others. The thread created for each grouping by the curator can be perceived, for the most part, by simply using the eye and mind to connect the dots; however, it’s unfortunate that no literature or explanation is provided explaining each section of the exhibition or how these pieces might be seen as a distinct representation of the artist’s oeuvre. Unfortunately, novices will likely walk away from this exhibition feeling as though they merely saw beautiful jewelry instead of having been given a deeper understanding of art or each artist. Even for someone with expertise, the exhibition becomes a bit daunting due to the absence of labels. Separate handouts with basic information about the pieces force the viewer to constantly shift his attention from page to artwork, matching the text to the numbered piece of interest, and serves as a distraction. However, for art history buffs, the show can be a fun way to test your knowledge, mentally questioning who the designer might be before taking a peek at the answer.
Nam June Paik, Sense Amplifier - Inhibit Driver (2012), Necklace, mixed metals and plastic, 35 cm X 11.5 cm (with chain), 13.5 cm X 11.5 cm (pendant); © Nam June Paik/ Courtesy the N. Seroussi Collection and Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach/Photo by Philippe Gontier.
Practically each and every piece of jewelry in this exhibition is distinctive and surprising, so, despite its shortcomings, the show is worth seeing. These aren’t items from obscure, unknown artists, but have been produced by well-known, heavy hitters in the art world: Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama…the list goes on. Nam June Paik, a master of video art and savant manipulator of electronics, has work that can be seen in the first room. Sense Amplifier – Inhibit Driver (2012), resembles a circuit board, one that may have resulted from the deconstruction of a computer. The artist’s obsession with media, in this case, manifests itself on a large metal chain to be worn around the neck. Frank Stella has an ornate treasure, also a necklace, but one crafted in a very different manner from Paik's, on display in the last and largest room. His Untitled necklace (2008), takes on a winding and whimsical design, one that contrasts the work he is most commonly associated, the stripe paintings. Instead, Untitled is reflective of his more current interest in spiraling, polymeric forms, those inspired by the music of Scarlatti and the late work of Kandinsky.
Frank Stella, Untitled necklace (2008), Gold-painted titanium, unique, 11 X 2 in.; © Frank Stella/ Courtesy the D. Venet Collection and Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach.
The purpose of the Bass Museum of Art, a jewel in its own right, is, according to its mission statement, to create a dynamic conversation by exploring connections within art history. The current exhibition is an innovative way of extending the discussion of art beyond the works more commonly associated with the most popular artists of our time. The museum is helping to lead the way in “tearing down the walls” created by curators, a cry that well-known art critic Roberta Smith recently made in the New York Times. Breaking down the barriers between fine art and craft is no easy feat and occurs one exhibition at a time. And here in Miami, via “From Picasso to Koons: The Artist as Jeweler,” is an institution that is moving this conversation in the right direction. Bravo.