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Wearable Sculpture

Fine Jewelry: Jewelry Made by the World’s Leading 20th-Century Artists

From Picasso and Calder to Chamberlain and Koons, major artists have been making jewelry their medium.

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They were made for wives, mothers, and lovers, one-of-a-kind pieces that when not worn would be safely tucked away in jewelry boxes and top dresser drawers. A generation later, due to death, divorce, broken hearts, and deacessioning heirs, these intimate pieces of jewelry, made by the world’s leading 20th-century artists, are starting to pop up in salesrooms and at fairs. A pendant by Picasso? A necklace by Calder? Even a brooch by the late John Chamberlain? Anyone can buy a diamond, but Louise Bourgeois made only six editions of Gold Spider Brooch (1996), a mini-me and virtual maquette of her monumental bronze Maman (1999), which has spent the last decade being exhibited around the globe.

The art world’s cognoscenti are now realizing what kind of statement it makes to own and wear a piece of artist’s jewelry. Indeed, auction house specialists and dealers in this niche area say it’s not jewelry collectors who are driving today’s market but buyers of modern and contemporary art. “For collectors who collect their artists in depth, the jewelry becomes another must-have,” says Gabriela Palmieri, senior specialist in contemporary art at Sotheby’s New York.

But who knew so many artists moonlighted as jewelers? Some experimented with the medium throughout their careers, even working closely with a goldsmith or professional jeweler, while others informally, spontaneously, sporadically made pieces as gifts for loved ones. Alexander Calder is the absolute king of jewelry making, having produced 1,800 pieces that now command significant sums, and Picasso, who always embraced a new medium, made pieces in metal and found objects. The big surprise is to learn that the likes of Josef Hoffman, Lucio Fontana, Salvador Dali, Charlotte Perriand, Robert Indiana, Yves Klein, and Eduardo Chillida made wearable art. Interestingly, gems are rarely found in 20th-century artists jewelry; rather, these artists, many of whom were sculptors, used the same materials they employed for their larger works. As a result, artist’s jewelry can instantly be pegged to its maker, even to a specific period in the artist’s career.

“The jewelry always had to do with work he was doing at present,” says Corice Arman, the widow of the French-American Nouveau Réaliste artist Arman. “I have pendants from his inclusion series in the ’70s, jewelry based on his paint-brush series from the ’80s, a gold brooch of bicycles from his series in the late ’90s. I was always a wearable showcase for him.”

Next month the crème de la crème of the international collecting world will be able to shop one of the finest collections of artists’ jewelry when Didier Antiques, Ltd., of London exhibits at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht (March 16–25). Part of TEFAF Showcase, a much-sought-after invitational for a select handful of young dealers, the gallery, run by Didier and Martine Haspeslagh, is considered the global expert in this area. They will be bringing a finely curated collection of postwar artists’ jewels including rare enameled pieces by CoBrA artists Karel Appel and Corneille that are certain to be a hit with the Dutch. The large Appel pendant, Clown with Diamond Eyes, 1980, which came from a private Belgian collection, is particularly rare. “I had no record of this,” says Didier Haspelagh. “But this is what happens. In all of these monographs done on artists they never mention the jewelry they made.”

Cufflinks, necklaces, and rings made by contemporary artists will also be selling at Maastricht with Ben Brown Fine Arts of London and Hong Kong. Louisa Guinness, Brown’s wife, pioneered commissioning YBAs to produce limited-edition jewelry. For almost a decade now she has been working with artists such as Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst and Gavin Turk. Her eponymous London gallery will have a presence on the Ben Brown stand. Both Louisa Guinness and Didier Antiques have also shown at the Pavilion of Art & Design Fairs in London and New York.

A spate of recent museum exhibitions has been raising the profile of artists’ jewelry. Most recently there was “From Picasso to Jeff Koons: The Artist as Jeweler,” at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, a stunning exhibition that got the collecting world chattering last autumn. “We’ve been taking select clients to go see it,” says Palmieri.

Based on the private collection of Diane Venet, the wife of French sculptor Bernar Venet, the exhibition is a treasure of diminutive artistic intimacy, with jewelry by dozens of leading 20th- and 21st-century artists. Venet’s first piece came from her husband 26 years ago, when he wrapped a piece of silver around her finger as an engagement ring.

By Sallie Brady

Author: Art & Antiques Magazine | Publish Date: February 2012

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