“Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection,” opening Nov. 17, celebrates the recent gift from the renowned collector to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. On view through May 28, 2018, the exhibition, co-curated by Ursula Ilse-Neuman and Cooper Hewitt, features 150 brooches, necklaces, bracelets and rings, and traces radical developments in jewelry from the mid-20th century to the present. Works on view highlight jewelry design’s expressive and innovative achievements, ranging from works that make a political statement by eschewing silver and gold for industrial materials, to pieces that employ found materials to tell a personal narrative.
“It is with much gratitude that Cooper Hewitt has accepted this collection of modern and contemporary jewelry from a champion of the field,” said Caroline Baumann, director of the museum. “The Susan Grant Lewin Collection significantly expands the range and depth of Cooper Hewitt’s jewelry holdings to encompass the inventive approach of the studio jewelry movement and the impact of later groundbreaking conceptual and materials-driven contemporary jewelry design.”
The exhibition captures the diversity and achievement of modern and contemporary jewelry designers from Holland, Japan, Israel, the United States and elsewhere. Many of the pieces confront social, political or personal concerns using unconventional materials and techniques. Contained within a ring may be a history of the mathematical proportions of the Palladian villas of the Veneto, as in the case of Giampaolo Babetto. Within a bracelet may be a rejection of the cult of the precious, as seen in Otto Künzli’s “Gold Makes You Blind,” where an 18-karat gold ball is encased in a rubber bangle.
“I have been collecting jewelry for decades and it only becomes more exciting as the field of conceptual jewelry design continues to flourish,” said Susan Grant Lewin. “I meet designers from around the world, so the collection is international in scope. I like to find the leaders and innovators—the most experimental jewelry designers—and I am thrilled that Cooper Hewitt is exposing their revolutionary work to the general public.”
Highlights of the works on view include:
- Intricate beading by 2016 MacArthur Fellow Joyce Scott, who depicts moments of sexism and racism and calls attention to their engendered violence
- A silver and acrylic kinetic ring by Friedrich Becker, 1993, designed to axially rotate in response to the gestures of the hand that wears it
- Ted Noten’s rejection of habituation and embrace of the unexpected, as seen in his 2003 pendant necklace, “Fred,” which encases a fly and a pearl in his signature cast acrylic
- Kiff Slemmons’ narrative necklaces, including her 2008 piece, “Reliquary of My Own Making,” constructed of photographs that document her design process
- The tongue-in-cheek, conceptual smoking instrument, “Manhattan Piece,” 1987, by Otto Künzli; a tubular design allows the wearer to exhale cigarette smoke through a brooch or button
- Pioneering assemblage pieces that were the first to make curious whimsy out of the everyday, such as Ramona Solberg’s 1989 necklace featuring two dominos on a leather cord
- Brooches and body ornamentation by American jewelry pioneer Arline Fisch, who applies an innovative technique of weaving metal
- Abstract, painterly brooches from Thomas Gentille, who uses materials such as gold-flecked bronze, aluminum and eggshell inlay
- A necklace made of coal and recycled paper feathers from Attai Chen’s “Compounding Fractions” series, 2010, which portrays decay as delicately beautiful
- Work by Jamie Bennett, whose gold and enamel brooches act as canvases for abstract imagery reminiscent of vegetal Persian tapestries or paintings by Joan Miró
- “Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection” is made possible in part by the Rotasa Fund, Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), Gallery Loupe, Sienna Patti, Helen W. Drutt English, and Kim and Al Eiber.