Both an art form, and a valuable decorative commodity – particularly when diamonds and other precious stones and metals feature prominently – jewellery is also, depending on the creator and the intention, wearable art. Artists have been designing jewellery for centuries – Hans Holbein the Younger made beautiful drawings for elaborate gem-set gold pendants as early as the 16th century.
However, it was only at the turn of the 20th century that the boundaries between painting and sculpture, art and jewellery, began to blur. Artists like Lucio Fontana, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso experimented with wearable objects, expanding the dialogue between art and design. Meanwhile, Surrealists like Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Meret Oppenheim explored jewellery as a form of self-expression. American artist Alexander Calder was the first to make jewellery part of his ongoing practice, constructing wearable pieces that flowed seamlessly from his wider oeuvre.
Recently Hauser & Wirth debuted its Portable Art Project at its New York City space, with an exhibition of wearable objects commissioned from fifteen contemporary artists – works that exist somewhere between sculpture and bodily adornment. Conceived by collector Celia Forner, who collaborated closely with the artists, the Portable Art Project includes unique pieces as well as editioned series, crafted from an array of materials ranging from traditional gold and silver with precious and semi-precious gems, to enamel, aluminium, bronze, and iron.
The initiative began in 2008 with an invitation to Louise Bourgeois, who designed spiral-like precious metal cuffs, like plaits of elongated phalluses. In the years since Bourgeois designed these first contributions, the Portable Art Project has evolved to include wearable art by 14 other artists such as John Baldessari, Phyllida Barlow, Stefan Brüggemann, Subodh Gupta, Mary Heilmann, Andy Hope 1930, Cristina Iglesias, Matthew Day Jackson, Bharti Kher, Nate Lowman, Paul McCarthy, Caro Niederer, Michele Oka Doner, and Pipilotti Rist.
Baldessari’s creations include an 18-karat yellow-gold earring in the shape of a nose; a diamond-eyed bluebird shoulder piece; and the ‘Crowd Arm’ bands, elbow metal armour with long pointed spears—great for rushing to the front of stage at a rock concert. McCarthy casts his butt plugs into delicate rose-gold pendants (a fab gift for the gimp in your life), while Barlow’s grand colourful electroformed and enameled knots evoke her defiant urban sculptures of recycled material.
A commissioned series of photographs by Gorka Postigo accompanies the show featuring modern muse and actress Rossy de Palma.
The artists’ pieces will be on view at Hauser & Wirth’s uptown space at 32 East 69th Street through 17 June 2017.