My time at SOFA NY began early Friday morning. The show is located at the Park Avenue Armory. Upon entry, one sees a wonderful example of what once was, and soon again will be (post-renovation) art nouveau-era decor on a very grand scale.
AJF sponsored a gracious continental breakfast in the Tiffany room, followed by the first AJF VIP lecture. Rock Hushka, curator of collections from the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM), spoke to the assembled group about collection strategies for studio art jewelry at his institution. Hushka ran through a brief history of TAM and then a long list of issues and concerns relevant to the museum. His comments addressed how the museum looks to expand its collection as well as their mission, which is to become a premier museum for Pacific Northwest art. Hushka spoke extensively on jewelry and the special considerations it entails for a museum.
Staying put in the Tiffany Room, Hushka was ‘on’ again. Co-sponsored by AJF and SNAG, which brought in a broader audience, his second lecture was entitled 'Holding Objects: What it Means to Wear Jewelry – The Psychoanalytic Mechanisms.' Hushka explained that he came to the subject of art jewelry seeking to understand the relationship between the maker and the wearer. He began by exploring the idea that jewelry appeals to many on an emotional level enhanced by facets of one’s particular culture. He then expounded on the unspoken messages of jewelry in general and continued on to examine in particular the meaning and message of studio art jewelry. Using psychoanalytical concepts, Hushka presented four different approaches to interpretation. His talk was both contemplative and challenging, but seemed to me at times to try too hard to make the jewelry fit the concept rather than have the concept help to explain the jewelry.
It was past noon when I finally walked into the exhibition space eager to see what was there and looking to pay special attention to studio art jewelry. One of the first galleries I saw was Sienna Gallery (Lenox, MA). The booth featured a single work, Wanderlux, by jeweler Tina Rath, which began on one side, turned the corner and continued across a wall at mid-line of the exhibition space. I arrived right before Rath was to speak about her mixed media piece which was two years in the making and required five assistants. (There is a video of the installation of Rath's work.)
The basic concept relates to Rath’s pleasure in wandering through nature and the luxury that being able to do so implies – a luxury of both time and space. Rath went on to explain that through the process of wandering in exterior landscape space, one is able to perhaps then wander through one’s own interior landscape. The piece itself is evocative of woodlands in both its jewelry components and its supportive structure. Blocks of blond wood tethered the composition. Each was adorned with cascades of draped ultra-suede leaves, twiggy silver tracings, fur, silk, rock, gold leaf and ivory. Fungus-like pods adhered to the mossy-green background. The piece was designed to be intentionally interactive in that it contains secret drawers in the wood blocks that hold treasures – be they jewelry or bits of ‘nature,' much like the private spaces in one’s mind. This multi-dimensional piece contains ten pieces of jewelry nestled within its totality.
I found the piece to be compelling. The act of truly looking at it was engaging and forced the viewer to wander from place to place along the wall seeking out the hidden caches and fine details. Even with the title and no explanation, the gist of the concept was comprehensible. While it was not the most extreme example of studio art jewelry at the show, I felt it was current and had something distinctive to communicate. The disengaged items of jewelry ranged from easily wearable to somewhat bigger statements, but all were consistent in feeling and concept. As well as Rath’s Wanderlux, Sienna Gallery also presented a number of other intriguing artists, although in a far more limited manner.
The display at Ornamentum (Hudson, NY) was more immediately diverse. The gallery featured several artists prominently. On the left side of the space a whole wall of Tanel Veenre’s Pagan Poetry pieces were displayed. It was difficult for me to pay attention to this amorphous body of work when there were so many other interesting pieces to be seen. At the far right, in their own designated area, Ruudt Peters’s Anima pieces were shown attached to individual mirrored disks suspended from above. The work is fairly delicate in scale and gave the illusion of fragility. Through this series, Peters was looking to explore the unconscious and to discover a new freedom of form. The effect with the mirrors was eye-catching, as well as light-catching, and allowed the art to be seen simultaneously from the front and back. The installation seemed to complement the intention of the work beautifully and added to the sense of subconscious illusiveness.
Jennifer Trask’s large neckpiece, Germinate, from her Embodiment series, is a seductive tour de force of details combined to create a cascade of lacy organicism. Composed of carved bone, a tiny bird skull, pinpoint hidden diamonds and bits of carved ivory, the neckpiece is like a jumbled natural history lesson. While making a bold statement in terms of scale, the piece is minutely crafted and visually enthralling. Trask’s series explores the concept of the emotional becoming embodied in the physical, but for me the piece is evocative of dreams where fragments of images are all somehow connected.
In contrast, Swan’s Neck Necklace, a neckpiece featuring a taxidermy brown swan’s head embellished with beads, leather, feathers and fabric by the Netherland team Idiots, is far more difficult to comprehend. Due to its well-protected placement within the display area, one has to wonder whether the gallery was a bit unsure of the public reaction as well. With this work, the artists seek to play upon the contrasting ideas of momento mori, the natural beauty of the animal form and the idea of luxury to conjure up whatever thoughts such associations might inspire. It is hard to imagine, however, that adorning oneself with such a piece actually would lead to much conversation between wearer and the confronted viewer beyond talk about the reality of its components. Would wearing such a piece evoke real considerations on the nature of life and death among gala opening-night participants, dinner guests or someone one casually encountered, or would it just serve as a bit of shocking provocation? Perhaps if a viewer was particularly intrigued one might get a bit further into the wearer’s interpretive choice and the meaning of the necklace, but it seems problematic. On the other hand, while I have no interest in owning it and even less in wearing it, more than a week later I am still trying to understand the impetus behind the piece.
Maybe it was a carryover from Hushka’s talk, but it seems that each of the above artists, despite their differences in style and approach, share an interest in the cerebral connotations of their work. Their pieces suggest a narrative, even if the narrative is completely internal. One might say that much of contemporary studio art jewelry is highly cerebral in its origins, but this group of artists seems to be intentionally inviting an exploration of mental landscapes.
Sergey Jivetin’s work, also at Ornamentum, seems less internally focused and more about the possibilities of found objects, scale and form. Jivetin’s jewelry forces one to consider everyday objects in new ways. Exhibited pieces ranged from work constructed of tiny watch hand components to large-scale pieces fabricated with carbon-fiber reinforced eggshells. His Poultry Accumulus (Necklace) combines the illusion and preconception of an eggshell’s fragility with the reality of ‘bulletproof’ endurance, to quote Jivetin on its strength. Beyond the technical specifications, the necklace and a similarly constructed brooch juxtapose feminine associations of fertility, i.e. eggs and a soft roundness of form with an energetic vigor, a certain heft and bold compositional statements. Jivetin’s work has underlying content, too, but seems less oriented to the internal musings of the individual psyche.
In addition to Sienna and Ornamentum, many other galleries presented art jewelry. Some, such as established favorites Aaron Faber, Snyderman-Works and Charon Kransen Arts (CKA) were filled with a huge range of studio art jewelry by many artists. Kransen offered the usual dramatic display of great diversity. There seemed to be lots of color within the totality of the CKA presentation, a fact enhanced by the azure booth walls. While I looked closely at everything on display, I was especially appreciative of having the chance to talk at length to one of his exhibiting artists, Efharis Alepedis, about both her work and issues relevant to studio art jewelry. Other galleries such as Contemporary Applied Arts chose to feature a single jewelry artist, Katy Hackney, in conjunction with the rest of their collected works. There also were several galleries showing jewelry that studio-art-jewelry devotees might pass by due to their overall more traditional, fine-jewelry approach. However, within these galleries there were generally interesting pieces of beautifully crafted jewelry that one would never see at your local fine-jewelry store. These galleries may not be quite so cutting edge, but they offered pieces that were different from standard fare and eminently wearable.
After spending the better part of two days viewing and contemplating the totality of the SOFA NY experience, I left exhausted and feeling that while I had seen quite a lot, there was still much that was missed.