Jewellery designed by artists and architects always offers intriguing, unexpected results. But even as this niche has regained popularity throughout the past several years in Paris, it remains strangely underexposed in Italy. That may change thanks to an ambitious new exhibit that has just opened at Milan’s Fragile gallery. Entitled Designati alla Bellezza ('Designed for Beauty'), the exhibit is curated by Paola Berra, who has spent years informally unearthing artist and architect-designed jewellery as she amassed mid-century furniture and design pieces at Fragile, which first opened in 2000.
'Suddenly, I realised I had a lot of great pieces,' says Berra of her growing jewellery arsenal. 'When I actually started purposefully looking around, I found many more.' Designed for Beauty features the work of 12 different artists, including designers such as Enzo Mari and Ettore Sottsass, sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, painter Alba Polenghi Lisca, and architects like Andrea Branzi and Alessandro Mendini, none of which – Berra adds – would have ever agreed to a group show. 'They really are all such individual talents,' she explains. 'I started this show just by collecting pieces and then finding collectors, not by working with the artists themselves.'
Though many are small and diminutive, the pieces are all powerful upon closer inspection. German artist Karl Heinz Reister’s collages of ceramic steel and gold on a ring and matching cuff stand with refined sophistication while the 3D nest-like gold bangle and matching earrings designed by artist Giorgio Vigna have an architectural edge. There are exceptionally beautiful (and quasi minimal!) gold dangling geometric earrings by Sottsass, an intriguing silver mesh scarf with gold fringe designed by artist Giancarlo Montebello and best of all, a breastplate necklace composted of silver tubes by Arnaldo Pomodoro that graces the exhibit’s catalog cover.
'Jewellery by artists is really an area that developed in the 1970s,' says Berra. 'But then it kind of disappeared. It’s coming back now as many of the first collectors are in the 1980s now and want to sell. They realise they have these very important pieces in their collections. Most of these works are very hidden and have never been seen.'