Ron Porter is a former board member of AJF and long-time, art-jewelry enthusiast.
Uncharacteristically, I boarded a train at four in the morning on Friday, January 22, 2010 for an eight-hour trip to Richmond, Virginia. I had not ridden a northbound train from the South since I was a junior in high school. What could possibly be my motivation, you wonder? Why, a jewelry exhibition, of course. But not just any jewelry exhibition. It was a chance to visit over 40 brooches by Robin Kranitzky and Kim Overstreet. If you read my review of the book that accompanied their Finland exhibition, you will have some idea of my fascination with– and devotion to– their jewelry. Eight hours of clicketty-clack was a small price to pay for such an opportunity. There was another lure as well. The artists would be presenting a demonstration of their techniques and materials on Saturday afternoon. I might get to meet them and would certainly add to my understanding of the work. Besides, it might be a grand adventure and I was due one.
The exhibition, titled Fragments of Our Imagination: Narrative Jewelry by the Collaborative Partnership of Kranitzky & Overstreet, delivered on every level. Over 40 works were beautifully displayed and exquisitely lit in the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. No more than four pieces were shown in each vitrine, each occupying its own facade. Brooches were angled perfectly for viewing and the gallery’s supply of magnifying glasses only added to one’s enjoyment of these miniature worlds. One wall contained a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ taken directly from the artists’s workspace. The array and diversity of material was dizzying. In each of the three exhibition spaces, one wall was occupied by only one brooch in a wall vitrine. Each brooch was chosen perhaps to allow the lighting to illuminate the interior of the work. They literally glowed. Initially, I was disappointed that the curator had offered no statement or other clue as to the selection and arrangement of the works. After spending some hours with the works, I believe I understand why.
Kranitzky and Overstreet’s dioramas are multi-layered, both in construction and meaning. Standing opposite each and leaning forward with a magnifying glass, one is drawn into each private, complex world. There is a sense that, given enough time, one might fall into these worlds much as Alice fell into the rabbit hole. Living in Kranitzky and Overstreet’s worlds might offer the same sense of disorientation, thrill and danger as Wonderland. Some place I might prefer to live in, others I’d rush to escape, but I would be richer for spending any time in these other worlds.
The demonstration was yet another joy. The same symbiosis that pervades their work is evident in their manner and friendship. It was as if 50 of their closest friends had been invited over for chitchat. We learned of the transformation of the most mundane raw materials into moving water, dangerously tangled brush and ancient-looking mosaics. Their techniques confirmed that no shortcuts exist in creating their pieces. The number of steps from concept to completion is staggering. Most important was getting a sense of what motivates Kranitzky and Overstreet. They never used the word ‘content’ and did not tell us how their ideas arose. But it is clear to me now that ideas from each coalesce and a narrative is born. Indeed nothing about them or their work seems contrived. It is as if a flow of ideas pauses long enough to form a pool. Each pool is a brooch.
After the demonstration I went back to look at the works in the exhibit with more informed eyes. I noticed the sublime use of materials from nature, the array of other materials used in each piece and the way the artists assure that light becomes an integral part of each work. More importantly, I answered my question about curatorial decisions. I recognized for the first time that chronology might not be critically important to the understanding of an artist’s output. Brooches from 1989 rested next to those from 2010. The same devotion to craftsmanship and content was evident regardless of when a piece was created. As familiar as I am with their work, I realize that I cannot date a work from my observation of it. The jewelry of Kranitzky and Overstreet is literally timeless.
As to the train ride, that is a story of another kind. But as I boarded the Silver Star back to my home, I knew that I had eight uninterrupted hours to savor and digest my experience. A grand adventure indeed.