July 2012

Arts & Letters

‘Unexpected Pleasures’ at the National Gallery of Victoria

By Justin Clemens

‘Contemporary jewellery’ doesn’t simply mean jewellery that’s being made now. It’s also the name of a major international movement, beginning in the mid 1970s, in which jewellers started to experiment with the inherited limitations of their craft. Instead of churning out the diamond rings and golden tiaras, they started to rethink every aspect of jewellery – its material, size, colour, form, and relationship to the body and its environment. When you start to think seriously about the ubiquity and range of uses of jewellery, the implications are staggering. Has there ever been a culture that wasn’t obsessed with adornment?

Currently occupying the NGV’s new contemporary art space is a wild profusion of extraordinary works from this movement. Bolted down in specially designed viewing-cases or pinned to the walls, the pieces include multicoloured mixed-media brooches like bloated pink and green sea creatures, a necklace worn together with the dress from which it was made, and rings made from screws and nails. There are works fabricated from found materials: repurposed and rectified oxygen masks, milk bottles, and flotsam and jetsam washed up on a Thailand beach. At first, you might be taken aback by the unexpected use of materials and forms, but if you look closer – as you must, especially at the smaller pieces – the skill and ingenuity that went into them becomes clear.

Melbourne jeweller Susan Cohn has put together a significant retrospective of the contemporary jewellery movement, which is destined for London’s Design Museum in December, collecting over 200 works from around the globe. Proselytising in the best possible way, the show seeks not only to present little-seen or little-known works of contemporary jewellery, but to make a case for the creative impact and importance of jewellery itself, as a powerful art form. The exhibition catalogue shares this double ambition of seduction and education: its contents, from the punchy short essays by such luminaries as Deyan Sudjic, Peter Dormer, Liesbeth den Besten and Glenn Adamson, to the details of the works themselves, make a contribution to contemporary art and design criticism in general.

Unexpected Pleasures shows that jewellery – often considered too commercial to be art or too artistic to be truly commercial – is perhaps the art for our times. Jewellery is not just the production of precious objects, but a complex of social performances that implicates everybody. Crossing the high-tech with the handmade, industrial products with one-offs, and accessibility with snob-value, this exhibition presents contemporary jewellery at the height of its powers.

Justin Clemens

Justin Clemens writes about contemporary Australian art and poetry. He teaches at the University of Melbourne.

Cover: July 2012

July 2012

From the front page

Illustration

Islam on the inside

Queensland’s first Muslim prison chaplain has first-hand experience of the system

Pub Test: Bad News for Turnbull

Media moguls did not knife the PM, his party did

Paul Feig’s sophisticated ‘A Simple Favour’

This camp study of sociopathy is far from simple

Image of Ancestral Spirit Beings Collecting Honey, 1985-87

‘John Mawurndjul: I Am the Old and the New’ at the MCA, Sydney

The celebrated bark painter’s ethos guides this retrospective exhibition


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

JJ McRoach & Hunter S Thompson

An elderly patient waits in the Emergency Department. © Jason South / Fairfax Sydnication

Last resort

How the rebirth of general medicine will save lives

Room for improvement: John Howard. © Chris Pavlich / Newspix

Mind the Gap

Why the rising inequality of our schools is dangerous

Bill Shorten, Beaconsfield, 2006. © Wayne Taylor / Fairfax Syndication

Watch This Face

Bill Shorten


Read on

Feeding the Muppets

What does the Morrison government have to offer in terms of serious policy?

Paul Feig’s sophisticated ‘A Simple Favour’

This camp study of sociopathy is far from simple

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition

Image of Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Turnbull fires back

Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’


×
×