16 January 2010

San Francisco Exhibit Turns Jewelry On Its Ear

Mercury News

If your thoughts on jewelry go no further than the ring on your finger or the bling in your ear, a new exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design could change your perception of what jewelry is.

Gathering 80 works by more than 50 internationally recognized industrial and jewelry designers, "Designers on Jewelry: Twelve Years of Jewelry Production by Chi ha paura...?" takes an interesting look at the work of people redefining personal adornment.

That San Francisco is the first — and only — U.S. city to attract the Chi ha paura...? show demonstrates that the Bay Area has become a magnet for big-name jewelry exhibitions. In the last year, the glittering creations of Tiffany & Co., Lalique, Faberge and Cartier have graced San Francisco museums. But the work in "Designers on Jewelry" moves beyond jewelry as status symbol, purely aesthetic object or unattainable luxury. This is work where concept trumps materials.

The day I visited the Museum of Craft + Design, the exhibit's installation was overseen by influential Dutch designer Gijs Bakker. A lanky man with silver hair and funky glasses, Bakker was at the forefront of New Jewelry, a late 20th-century movement which focused on innovative forms of wearable self-expression.

Along with other designers, including his late wife, Emmy van Leersum, Bakker viewed jewelry as a form of communication intrinsically related to the body. It could be decorative and functional, unique and democratic
and made from unconventional materials such as aluminum, paper and PVC. Most important, jewelry could be intelligent and well-designed and created with the assistance of new technologies — or even mass produced. No longer was it the exclusive realm of gold- and silversmiths hunched over their work benches.

Those ideals led Bakker in 1996 to establish the Netherlands-based Chi ha paura...? Foundation, which tapped everyone from furniture and industrial designers to contribute to a core collection of 41 limited production pieces. Since 2002, Chi ha paura...? — Italian for "Who is afraid?" — has assembled three themed exhibitions, all of which are featured in the show.

The exhibit opens with "Rituals," which gathers work from a 2007 show examining the personal and societal meanings of adornment. Next is a selection of works from the core collection. CHP's second themed exhibit, "What's Luxury," asks about ideas and definitions of opulence, and is followed by "Sense of Wonder."

I spent most of my time in "Luxury," which houses 17 pieces in cheeky display cases decorated with pixilated images of ornate jewelry boxes. I appreciated the tongue-in-cheek humor in works such as Marc Monzo's "Diamond Brooch," a large, flat sterling silver pin that places a twist on the traditional sparkling ring. Ramon Middlekoop's gold-plated stainless steel tie pins are shaped like forks and can be used as utensils in an emergency or "to keep your fingers clean." Their title is "Gold Digger."

[ Photo: Dolphin Jewelry ]
The most luxurious item was Marko Macura's wrap necklaces made from humble silicone and polyurethane. Equipped with ear plugs at either end, "Echo" proposes that a moment of silence may be today's ultimate luxury.

But I'm most excited by "Rituals," which greets viewers at the museum's entrance.

This body of work, first exhibited in Milan in 2007, contains the output of designers asked to think about societal rituals and even fashion new ones. Designer Ted Noten created "Wedding Pills," a pair of golden capsules designed to replace traditional rings. Meant to be swallowed, retrieving them — or not — is entirely up you.

Frank Tjepkema's "Heartbreak," a porcelain, rubber and titanium necklace, combines a tiny hammer and heart. Wearers can smash the heart or simply watch as miniature fractures form. The most arresting piece — also available for purchase in the museum store — is Katja Prins' "Bound by Blood," a wood neckpiece

composed of prayer necklaces whose crimson color symbolizes both mutual bonds and blood shed "in the name of religion."

That you can purchase this editioned piece demonstrates CHP's democratic philosophy that jewelry be readily available and accessible, if not affordable. The pieces I handled, which included Charles Marks' architectural stainless steel "Triadic bracelet" and Bakker's sleek nylon "Shot" bracelet, were priced between $79 and $295.

I inquired about "Bound by Blood," but the museum staffer couldn't locate a sticker. I didn't press. For me, it's the idea behind the piece that is priceless.

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