Alexander Calder is the grandfather of artist jewellery, so when gallerist Louisa Guinness saw her mother-in-law wearing a Calder necklace she had bought for a song from the artist 25 years ago, she knew an exhibition was a must. Over the course of two years, Guinness called on private collectors, experts and the Alexander Calder Foundation to create a show at her eponymous gallery – the first solo exhibition of the late artist’s jewellery design in the UK.
Necklaces, brooches, bangles and earrings are displayed on headless mannequins, swathed in red robes, and on red leather bondage-bound torsos and heads. It’s a fittingly avant garde mise-en-scene created by Norwegian fashion designer Elise Overland.
Calder favoured simple, found materials over precious ones – bronze and silver over gold, stones and glass over diamonds and gemstones. He would hammer and bend metals into outsized, unwieldy zigzags, swirls and spirals (a favourite motif) and tie them together with wire, by hand, rather than using a soldering iron. He started making pieces for his sister’s dolls when he was a child, and later, in the 1930s, for his wife. His homespun, unorthodox approach soon became popular with many forward thinking women of the time, and photographs of Peggy Guggenheim, Georgia O’Keeffe and Anjelica Huston decked in his necklaces, brooches and jaggedy earrings line one wall of the gallery.
Calder only ever made one-offs, and 15 pieces in the show are for sale (his mobiles sell for upwards of £1m, and the rare unique jewellery pieces do not come cheap either). Alexander SC Rower, president the Calder Foundations says: ‘Making jewellery was extremely personal for my grandfather and he adamantly refused to edition his pieces. Each piece is unique, just like his mobiles. His pioneering aesthetic remains an inspiration for a league for studio jewellers today.’
Guinness commissioned photographer Alexander English to create a series of portraits of young women wearing Calder pieces. The aim, she explains, is to show Calder’s ‘timelessness and of-the-moment relevance and his continuous appeal’.