MAD History of Modern Art Jewelry

45 stories about modern art jewelry, such as Greenwich Village designer Arthur Smith

Sleek, modern, space-age, intricate, architectural, political, satirical, and comic – all descriptions of the array of modern-art jewelry selected by the Museum of Arts and Design exhibition, 45 Stories in Jewelry: 1947 to Now, on display on the second floor.

The second-floor space features a tour through modern-art jewelry’s evolution from a craft pioneered by studio artists like Art Scott and Alexander Calder to its current status as a respected and valued sector of today’s international art market.

MAD has shown art jewelry since it was founded in 1956, and its full collection now numbers 930 pieces. After redesigning its art jewelry exhibition area, MAD decided to mount a show to honor the extraordinary scope of its collection and place selected artworks into the broader context of art history.

1966 sterling silver body ornament by Arlene Fisch

Two rings of white cases offer visitors opportunities to peer into each story, see a spectacular or provocative piece, and read about its designer and context.

In every visit to this show, we saw jewelry lovers fully engaged, pouring over every detail of the craftsmanship.

The first case that drew our attention was a Constructivist pin by Margaret De Patta, a passionate California artist became immersed in modernism through her New York art studies in the Twenties, but really hit her stride in the Forties after training with Moholy-Nagy in Chicago. (This spectacular pin is prominently depicted on the museum’s timeline of modern art jewelry.)

John Paul Miller’s 1969 molten gold Armored Polyp

The museum highlights the stories of Forties artists working in studios, like Art Scott, who created body-conscious pieces for the jazz artists and modern dance innovators who visited his Greenwich Village studio.

Another early innovator honored in the exhibition is John Paul Miller, who created stunning gold pieces using ancient, forgotten techniques discovered in his archeological research.

Stories from the Fifties show how an entire generation of American designers was influenced by Danish design, particularly the sleek work of master silversmith Henning Koppel, whose work was featured internationally through the Georg Jensen brand.

Charles Laloma’s 1968 inlaid silver bracelet and 1960 bracelet with inner turquoise inlay

Art works from the Sixties include the way-out sterling body ornament by Arlene Fisch, space-age jewelry by Danish designers Gijs Bakker and Emmy van Leersum, and modernist Hopi jewelry design Charles Laloma, a ground-breaking Native American artist.

Stories in the exhibition from subsequent decades show how designers used their work to tell stories, make clever social comments, turn recycled materials into wearable art, display technical virtuosity, make magic, and create conceptual wonders.

Gésine Hackenberg’s earthenware 2008 Kitchen Necklace

The timeline in the exhibition details how art jewelry grew in popularity, entered museum collections, and began being shown at international art fairs.

Take a look at some of our favorites in the exhibition in our Flickr album and be sure to visit MAD in person.

Meet the 45 Stories committee members, who selected which works in MAD’s collection that embody key developments in the evolution of the art form:

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