SPACE-LIGHT-STRUCTURE: THE JEWELRY OF MARGARET DE PATTA is the first comprehensive retrospective of the life and work of Margaret De Patta (1903-1964), a pioneer in American studio jewelry whose modernist creations remain as fresh and vital today as when they were initially conceived in the mid-twentieth century.
Featuring De Patta's most spectacular brooches, pendants, and rings, Space, Light, Structure explores the major contributions of this groundbreaking San Francisco artist and sheds new light on her radical design philosophy.
In 1939, De Patta began her search for new techniques that would allow her to take advantage of the inherent refractory properties of transparent and semi-transparent crystals. Her innovative "opticuts" revolutionized contemporary jewelry by transforming stones into brilliant, transparent spatial objects that, to this day, remain unsurpassed in concept, form, and execution.
Growing out of her passion for modern architecture-and signaling a radical departure from the conventional perception of jewelry as mere body ornament- the compositions of her "wearable miniature sculptures" exhibit a dynamic equilibrium in which cantilevered, linear elements are counter-balanced against more compact, denser forms.
The exhibition also illuminates the critical influence of De Patta's mentor, László Moholy-Nagy, the renowned artist with whom she studied in 1941-42. The Constructivist concepts championed by this former Bauhaus master and co-founder of the Chicago Bauhaus are manifest in De Patta's manipulation of space and light as well as through her incorporation of kinetic elements, space-defining steel screens, "opticut" rutilated crystals, and "floating" tension-mounted stones. Several equilibrium studies and photograms by Moholy-Nagy will underscore the enduring formal strength and visual excitement of the jewelry De Patta produced following the tenets she absorbed from him. Important works by other leading international protagonists of Constructivism, including El Lissitzky Alexander Archipenko, and György Kepes, will also be included in order to contextualize De Patta and her work.
Drawn from important museum, gallery, and private collections in the United States and Canada, as well as from the De Patta Archives in California, the exhibition also presents never-before-shown examples of the artist's flatware, ceramics, and designs for interior spaces, in addition to travel diaries of her trips to Mexico, Japan, and the 1939 New York World's Fair.
The exhibition has been co-organized by the Museum of Arts and Design and the Oakland Museum of California and co-curated by Ursula Ilse-Neuman, Curator of Jewelry, Museum of Arts and Design, and Julie M. Muñiz, Imogene Gieling Curator of Decorative Arts, Oakland Museum of California