09/19/2010

The catalog for GlassWear: Glass in Contemporary Jewelry accomplishes what all exhibition catalogs should. It makes one want to see the exhibition, increases understanding of the subject and supports the intent of the curator. In addition, it broadens the reader’s knowledge of the subject and provokes further interest and discussion. The exhibition, curated by Ursula Ilse-Neuman of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York and in collaboration with the Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim, presents work by sixty international artists using glass as jewelry or glass in jewelry. The range of work presented is extraordinary and serves to intrigue with the endless possibilities of the medium when executed by gifted hands.

I confess to first reveling in the guilty pleasure of looking at striking images of beautiful work before tackling the written words that accompany them. It was no different with this catalog. I enjoyed getting a sense of the exhibition before being led through it by the authors. I view this as a method that allows me to form my own conclusions first, before reading the text to dispute or enhance them.

The visuals do not disappoint and the three essays serve to expand both my understanding of and excitement about the subject. While not unique to GlassWear, the writing shares center stage with the jewelry. Ilse-Neuman provides the customary introduction to the artists chosen and the medium presented. She divides the work into five categories: Old Glass in New Guise; Glass as Chameleon; as Surface and Structure; as Symbol and Metaphor; and simply Glass as Glass. These categories serve the work and the exhibition well. Cornelie Holzach, director of the Schmuckmuseum, tackles the ever-present, art-versus-applied-art debate. But she brings a refreshing and compelling argument that should be required reading in all university arts programs. Here's a teaser: ‘On the contrary, what is important to realize is that knowledge or mastery of techniques considerably facilitates the realization of ideas.’

However, it is ‘Glass as Jewels: An Uneasy Relationship’ that sets GlassWear apart from most exhibition catalog essays. It is written by Jutta-Annette Page, curator of glass at the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. Page tackles the history of both glass and jewelry, and glass as jewelry, with an understanding that is a joy to read. She writes for the enthusiast as well as the academic and she succeeds where so many fail. History is presented with such ease as to seduce the reader to want to read more. My only complaint: she ends her essay with the Bauhaus, which begs for part two, 'The 30s and Beyond,' to be written. If you read nothing else about glass or jewelry this year, read this.

To be sure, GlassWear is a boutique book, even by jewelry standards. But it expands the current body of knowledge of contemporary jewelry in so many ways. And for that it succeeds.

GlassWear: Glass in Contemporary Jewelry