When you think of the tradition of silver in New York, it’s reasonable for thoughts to turn to historic pieces such as ornate trophies or intricate tabletop goods.
An exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, though, handily proves that silver is a vibrant, viable material that today remains at the heart of creativity — and takes advantage of the latest technology.
“New York Silver, Then and Now” is a bold step, an exhibition designed to create a dialogue among 25 contemporary artists, silversmiths and designers and outstanding works of New York silver in the museum’s permanent collection.
The contemporary works of art — original pieces created with a modern audience in mind — are displayed alongside their historic inspirations, often to stunning results.
Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, for example, homed in on the most intricate details of an 18th-century tankard by Benjamin Wynkoop to create her own statement, “Magnification: Engraving.”
Meanwhile, the social commentary is clear in another pairing. An 1889 Tiffany & Co. Goelet Prize for Sloops, an award on which idealized females swirl across its base, sparked Amy Roper Lyons’ “Women’s Work #1.” The contemporary sculpture depicts a realistic female figure, showcasing strength and purpose as a meditation on beauty.
Throughout the exhibition, there is an emphasis on technique both historic and contemporary, which is spotlighted through works sometimes decorative, other times practical.
A GLOWING EXAMPLE
Looking more closely at one pairing offers a way to explore the exhibition’s approach on both the creative and technical fronts.
In a display case visitors see a pair of circa-1765 silver (cast, soldered and chased) candlesticks by Samuel Tingley Jr. and its modern match, “Silver Light, 2017” by Aranda\Lasch and Marcelo Coelho Studio. The contemporary piece uses PET (polyester) film, silver ink, silver epoxy, LEDs, with inkjet printing and is lent by the artists.
Here’s how it’s described in the museum text:
“Candlelight was a valuable commodity in the colonial world. The candlesticks by Samuel Tingley Jr., seen here, would have kept the dark at bay in a very elegant home. The polished silver of the candlestick reflected and enhanced the light.
“Aranda\Lasch and Marcelo Coelho have updated Tingley’s candlestick by utilizing the silver found in ordinary computer circuitry. Putting this commonly available material to new uses, the firm has embedded the circuitry into a clear, cylindrically shaped film. The result is a modern candle that spreads electronically inspired patterns of light.”
As Benjamin Aranda of Aranda\Lasch, a New York- and Tucson, Arizona-based design studio, said: “It’s cutting-edge technology.”
But, he said, it was also more than that.
“I think we also were asking questions about (silver) … how the value has transformed over time,” Aranda said, noting its historical role in displaying wealth.
“We wanted to show that silver was really becoming more a conduit for energy. It has a kind of surface read and you can make the connection really quickly. It’s like a lot of projects in our studio. It works, but there’s a lot to it when you dig in.”
THE CURATOR’S VOICE
“New York Silver” is organized by guest curator Jeannine Falino, a New Rochelle resident whom we caught up with at the exhibition’s press preview.
“I thought it would be really fun to include people from other aspects of the creative arts,” she said of how the contemporary participants were chosen. “I have to say everyone was really, really willing to go outside their comfort zones.”
And, in doing so, conversations have been encouraged on topics ranging from the role of women to the use of slave labor in mining, from silver’s place in society to the ways art reflects its own times — and much more.
The efforts, as Aranda of Aranda\Lasch said, are worth exploring: “I think Jeannine really produced something really unprecedented here.”
And Falino was indeed impressed by the results of the year-long process.
“Some of them are functional. Some of them are avant- garde, which we love.”
It all, she said, explores themes of “craftsmanship, content, purpose and use.”
As she looked over the dozens of pairings that will fill the museum’s Tiffany & Co. Foundation Gallery through June 2018, Falino had a moment to reflect on the project.
“This is really fun,” she said. “It’s definitely not your grandmother’s silver.”
Museum of the City of New York is at 1220 Fifth Ave. (at 103rd Street). For more, visit mcny.org.