Friday, February 13, 2009

Neck Sculpture

I had sort of told myself that I wouldn't be going too far in the direction of Fashion Design here. I figure there are enough people discussing it in alternately sappy and intelligent ways everywhere you look. Granted, jewelry is a different art form altogether, but it's definitely a close cousin. I think the recent show at the Metropolitan Museum deserves a post, however, because it's the work of Alexander Calder. I'm struck again by the synchronicity of this show chasing the tails of the one at the Whitney, but it was inspired by the donation of four of Calder's elaborate necklaces to the Met in 2006 and started out its tour at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. Nonetheless, it complements the Whitney's show beautifully. The press release calls this the very first show focused solely on his jewelry. I'd say it was about time.

Bracelet (1948)
--All photos courtesy the Met.
He made his first jewelry at the age of eight, and continued throughout his career, but the majority of the pieces in the show are from the 1930s and '40s. The year of 1940 seems to have been especially prolific. They became extremely popular and sought-after, with good reason. His designs had to have been disgustingly hip in the '40s, the simpler pieces included, even if they hadn't been by a renowned artist.
Bracelet (1945) and Bracelet (1940)
Apparent in his jewelry, much more than in his sculpture, is how strongly influenced Calder was by Primitivism. A good number of the pieces have an obvious African tribal sensibility to them.
Necklace (1940)
The larger necklaces are so conceptual and huge, as the exhibition text notes, they make the wearer a living artwork herself, almost a work of performance art, and compete with her other garments for the spotlight.

Necklace (1940)
The most impressive pieces have protrusions that fully cantilever off the wearer's body into the surrounding personal space. From them dangle perfectly balanced metal bars that tilt and sway and swing whenever the person moves.
The Jealous Husband (1940)
I'd find it hard to believe guests at a cocktail party would be able to talk about anything other than the Calder necklace this woman was wearing.

Bracelet (1940)
The only thing I could possibly bring myself to find wrong with this exhibition is that I wish it were larger. It takes up only two relatively small rooms of the Modern wing. It's a good number of pieces, and so inspiring in its unique perspective on one of my favorite artists, it left me wanting more.

©2009, Ryan Witte

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