Jewelry on the edge

Jewelry designers are often called jewelry artists — and an exhibition opening this month at the Katonah Museum of Art shows just why.

But don’t expect a classic strand of pearls… oh, no.

The highly anticipated “Outrageous Ornament: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st Century” is designed to showcase the bold and the beautiful, the ambitious and the artistic.

Some 45 examples of creations that reimagine what advance materials call “the traditional boundaries that for so many centuries have defined body ornamentation” will be on display starting Oct. 21.

Jane Adlin, former curator of modern and contemporary design at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has brought it all together.

“Jewelry, in one form or another, has been around since the beginning of time,” Adlin says in advance materials. “From prehistoric evidence of body decoration made from found materials, such as shells and bone, to Egyptian, Grecian and Roman use of newly invented material, such as glass, to Renaissance artisans’ use of vibrant stones and gem-set gold, jewelry has always been a cultural signifier.”

Instead of focusing just on materials and process, “Outrageous Ornament” will explore whether jewelry is even defined by wearability, offering works such as Marjorie Schick’s neckpiece, “Spiraling Over the Line,” as examples.

The show will spotlight creators who include not only traditional jewelers but also interdisciplinary practitioners representing fields such as art, architecture, design, fashion, science and technology.

Intrigued, we turned to Adlin to hear more — and not only gained insight into the exhibition but also learned that she and her husband raised their two children in Scarsdale — and now have, she tells us, “a wonderfully countrified home in Pound Ridge where we love to entertain extended family and friends.”

This issue is all about art, artists and artistic inspirations. First off, do you consider jewelry a form of art? Do you think most people do?

“‘Art’ has always been hierarchically and critically defined. The ‘decorative or applied arts’ frequently included wearables — fashion, accessories, jewelry — and was considered less than a fine art such as painting or sculpture. I am interested in breaking down those kinds of definitions that can be barriers for the makers and collectors. Many museums and galleries are encouraging their patrons to look at jewelry as art. It’s a growing notion and one that I love.”

How did you select the jewelry that will be featured in the exhibition? What were you looking for in terms of style, materials, meaning?

“I began my search for the outrageous by using this definition from Merriam Webster: ‘outrageous — exceeding the limits of what is usual.’

“It’s a broad concept but worked really well for me in making decisions about what to include in the show as well as what in fact is groundbreaking. Limiting the works to the 21st century was also helpful as there have been periodic technology breakthroughs as well as stylistical innovations in jewelry making throughout history. 

“The difference is that in recent history there is an absolute explosion of limitless creativity in this area and there were many, many choices for inclusion. While at The Metropolitan Museum, I curated a number of jewelry shows — historic, modern and contemporary. I have been assessing and appreciating jewelry for many years, so seeing ‘outrageous’ as distinct from new or different was easy, because it is something I have been thinking about a lot.”

Could you share a few details about one particular piece and its creator as an example of what the show is all about? Was there a particular artist you knew had to be included?

“I couldn’t say that there was just one artist I had to include but I can say that I knew there had to be examples of work by sculptors, painters, photographers, fashion designers, architects and conceptualists as well as classically trained jewelers, all of whom work ‘outside the box’ of jewelry as we know it. 

“I have included a drawing by Jonathan Wahl and photographs by Lauren Kalman. Neither of these works are ‘wearable’ but both talk about the meaning of jewelry — who wears it, how it is worn and why. Marjorie Schick is represented in the exhibition by two works. ‘Spiraling Over the Line’ is most important and represents the work that Marjorie began in the 1970s and continued to make until her recent death. She most perfectly defines outrageous — a signifier I hope everyone agrees is one of high praise.”

What are some of the themes that you hope visitors will take away with them?

“I believe that the main theme of the show is for the viewer to get past the wearability factor in jewelry (although not to discard it) and to see the many sides of body ornament along with its beauty, its thoughtfulness, its connection to today’s society and its contribution to art.”

And, finally, if we may ask Do you wear much jewelry? Do you have a favorite piece and if so, what makes it so?

“I do wear a lot of jewelry. Excluding my contemporary pieces, I would love to wear earrings by Alexander Calder or a necklace by René Lalique. I don’t own either.”

“Outrageous Ornament: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st Century” will open Oct. 21 and continue through Jan. 27 at the Katonah Museum of Art, at 134 Jay St. Of note, the exhibition is featured as part of the inaugural New York City Jewelry Week (nycjewelryweek.com), dedicated to promoting the world of jewelry with events set for Nov. 12 through 18. For more, including special events such as workshops, discussions, studio visits, family activities and a pop-up shop, visit katonahmuseum.org.

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