It was back in our September fashion-themed issue that we offered an advance look of “Jewelry: The Body Transformed,” set to open Nov. 12 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
After much anticipation, WAG finally had the opportunity to see the exhibition, as we were invited to the Nov. 5 press preview at the museum on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
It is, in brief, an exhibition both sweeping in scope but also filled with countless details, focusing on some 230 objects that represent jewelry from 2600 B.C. through the present day.
At first, it’s easy to be almost overwhelmed by the array – primarily, we were told, from The Met’s own extensive holdings – gathered together to explore the purpose and power of jewelry.
The show’s opening text panel helps set the scene:
“What connects a flashing nose ornament from the ancient Andes to a lustrous strand of Parisian pearls or an ivory cuff for a Benin king? All are precious objects made specially for the body, a setting like no other.”
The objects themselves are beyond dazzling, a tour-de-force of styles, materials, countries, artists and purposes. There’s a showstopping late 19th-century necklace by René-Jules Lalique and a Karl Lagerfeld-embellished gown first created in 1983 for the House of Chanel. There is a stunning gold Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, known as the Crown of the Andes, a Colombian design circa 1660 (diadem) and circa 1770 (arches) and an entire enclave devoted to the enduring allure of pearls. We could, literally, go on and on… and on.
For all the glitz and glamour, though, it’s the thought behind the exhibition that remains the most striking.
Opening the remarks portion of the preview, The Met’s deputy director for exhibitions, Quincy Houghton, noted that the show is “a truly magical exhibition.”
And it’s all come together, she added, with its goal realized, that visitors “will reconsider the role of modern-day jewelry in their life.”
Lead curator Melanie Holcomb – who also serves as curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters – spoke as well, introducing the curatorial staffers who joined together on this show.
It is, Holcomb said, an exhibition with many entry points.
“This is a show that I don’t think calls for a prescribed itinerary. We invite you to wander, to follow what catches your eye.”
And, she added, “I hope you’re noticing that this is not your typical jewelry show.”
Instead, it’s a bit of “pushing and pulling,” to “have you contemplate what jewelry is, after all” – “not how jewelry is made but how jewelry makes us.”
She concluded that the exhibition, what she called “an enchanted village,” is designed to explore its topics through a series of stories, clearly evidenced by a walk through “Jewelry: The Body Transformed.”
For every diamond-encrusted necklace or ancient ear cuff, one is not only awed but also sparked to consider the piece, thinking about its era but also who might have worn it, to what event – and why.
As Holcomb concluded, “While jewelry may seem superficial, the act of adorning ourselves is one of the most profound acts we engage in as human beings.”
“Jewelry: The Body Transformed” opens Nov. 12 and continues through Feb. 24 in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. Visitors will note a dedicated gift shop, which features the catalog and themed products. There is also special programming scheduled throughout the run of the exhibition.
For more, visit metmuseum.org.
– Mary Shustack