Art, adornment, object? A new exhibition explores the free spirit of studio jewellery

Art, adornment, object? A new exhibition explores the free spirit of studio jewellery

‘Jewellery functions on many levels – as adornment, as statement, as art,’ opines Annabelle Campbell, Head of Exhibitions and Collections at Crafts Council. ‘It exists at a blurry intersection.’

Crafts Council’s exhibition, ‘I Am Here: Portable Art, Wearable Objects’, at The Hospital Club in London sits at this crossroads. Narrating the story of contemporary art jewellery, it draws from works held in collections by Crafts Council, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA), and London spaces Galerie Marzee, Gallery S O and Pangolin London.

Centred on thoughtful, glass cabinet exhibition designs from London-based studio Julia, ‘I Am Here’ traces five decades of design from 1970. That era saw radical shifts in jewellery design, as jewellery makers increasingly threw non-precious materials into the creative mix.

Bangle, part of ‘Twelve Perspex Multiples Series, by Susanna Heron, 1976. Photography: Todd White Art Photography

The 1976 colourful cut-out pieces by the British art jeweller Susanna Heron are a case in point. Bangles of semi-transparent, Perspex disks, hang, twirl and sway, catching the light as the body moves, seeming to sculpt around it. 

‘Jewellery is designed primarily to be worn, and its relationship with the body is a key factor for makers,’ Campbell explains. ‘This is a challenge for galleries and curators, where the jewellery must be appreciated absent of moving bodies.’ Seen here under glass-boxes, the designs gain a new type of gravitas. As Campbell says, ‘Each object takes on an alternative ego.’

One of the exhibition high points is a rare chance to see jewellery by British sculptor Lynn Chadwick, namely his ostentatiously large Oblong B Ring. Having created his large-scale bronze, copper and wood sculptures for two decades before foraying into jewellery, Chadwick was no stranger to creating static objects. Here you can see how he works his experience of large-scale metal manipulation into miniature wearable works; and his ring looks right at home in a static gallery setting (not least thanks to its sheer heft).

Comprising glass displays, alongside historical anecdotes, the exhibition also succeeds in highlighting that objects can be studied and enjoyed for the intricate details, political relevance, and as with David Bielander’s Lips, for example, the wry sense of humour that gives art jewellery form their singular character. Though jewellery is, of course, best seen on the body, Campbell and Julia have created a sensitive way of tracing art jewellery’s radical beginnings, in the confines of a gallery.

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