The Met Asks What the Renaissance Thought It Was Worth

1608 chalice by Otto Meier, Germany. Value = 255 cows.

What kind of art and collectables were Northern Europeans buying in the 16th century? How much were they paying?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art answers that question in a highly creative way in its exhibition, Relative Values: The Cost of Art in the Northern Renaissance, on view through February 28.

The gallery is filled with a wide range of beautiful objects made in the Renaissance – ceramic containers, cups made from natural shells, bejeweled chalices, gorgeous drinking glasses, fancy sporting boxes, and portable desktop personal shrines. At a distance of 400 years, museums and modern viewers regard them as priceless treasures.

1530-1535 glass painted by Dirck Vellert, Flanders. Value = 12 cows

But the Met curators wondered how much these items cost in their day. How rare were these items in the collection? How much did collectors value them? And how did Renaissance makers market them?

The curators dug into assessments of royal holdings, craft guild price lists, and estate inventories. But understanding pricing was complicated because each price list used different regional European currencies (gilders, shillings, florins, and so forth). Then a light bulb went off.

Across Europe, the price of a cow was stabilized at 175 grams of silver. So, the cost of every item in the show is shown in cows!

15th c. British or French pilgrims’ badge with Saint Leonard. Value = ½ cow

It’s fun to view the museum’s treasures from this perspective – how many cows was each piece of art worth? Take a look at our Flickr album, which shows some of our favorite treasures from low to high value.

Two of the least expensive items in the show are the ceramic jug used for a silly drinking game (value = 1/8 cow) and the sought-after pilgrim pins that you could pin to your hat to show that you had actually made and completed your pilgrimage across Europe (value = ½ cow). The mass-produced traveler pins seem a little pricey, but probably not compared to the cost of the trip itself. In any case, the pin was probably the only piece of art owned by the lower classes.

Nobleman’s multi-game board made in 16th c. Spain. Value = 14 cows

Wealthy patrons were attracted to over-the-top virtuoso pieces made from high-priced materials – elaborate traveling game board sets with exotic inlays (14 cows) and silver utilitarian art pieces (10 cows). Commissioning a work from a well-known goldsmith, glass painter, or locksmith drove up the price, especially if you wanted upscale materials.

If you ordered something in solid silver, you could melt it down in a pinch if you needed the cash.

Just like the latest smart device, collectors went wild over buying the latest technological marvel, like automaton clocks (21 cows) or rare natural wonders.  Unusual natural materials and virtuosity really drove up the price. Coconut-shell cups with silver (11 cows) or ruby-eyed rock-crystal carved birds (275 cows), anyone?

1602 nautilus shell cup, Netherlands. Value = 18 cows.

High-end collectors created cabinets to store their “curiosities” and reveled in showing guests how their advanced mechanical wonders worked or talking about where in the world the unusual materials were sourced.

With economies booming, the merchant and the middle classes desperately wanted to emulate the upper classes, so over the course of the 16th century, demand for fabulous objects only grew. Some makers began using molds to decorate or replicate sculptures to create attractive, but less expensive works for middle-market buyers, such as decorative molded German stoneware (1/2 to ¾ cow).

Some cities began hosting annual art markets, drawing buyers from across Europe. Guilds enhanced distribution by setting up trading posts for their wares in key market towns.

1580 rock crystal bird ruby eyes, Nuremburg. Value = 275 cows

Different from today’s art market that sees paintings at auction in the millions, classical paintings during the Renaissance were relatively inexpensive (5 cows).  Works that emanated and reflected “divine light” were highly prized – painted glass (12 cows), alabaster sculptures (40 cows), and bejeweled chalices (255 cows). And tapestries, which took forever to make, were considered the ultimate luxury.

To capitalized on the demand, the design/art stars of the day worked across media, elevating value of less expensive works by putting their highly prized monograms on prints and ceramics as well as high-end masterpieces, channeling their inner Andy Warhol.

Take a look at all of the wonders in the show on our Flickr album and on the Met website, were you can click on each work and then click to see where it falls on the museum’s incredible, feature-rich Timeline of Art History.

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:

Studio 54 Designers Turn Swimsuits into Evening Wear

Studio 54 fashion: Fiorucci blouse by Antonio, Stephen Burrows dress, and Zandra Rhodes gown. Courtesy: Pat Cleveland

The Seventies fashions in Studio 54: Night Magic, on display through November 8 at the Brooklyn Museum, slip, slide, drape, glitter, and sometimes seem like they’re not even there.

The entire point of going to the Studio 54 nightclub – assuming you could get in – was to shimmer, startle, reveal, exude fabulousness, and shine, shine, shine in the crowd and on the dance floor.

The Brooklyn Museum exhibition, a masterful curatorial achievement, pumps the music, flashes the lights, and runs the videotape while showing off the wunderkinds that made the Seventies 54 scene drip with glamour – Halston, Calvin, Kamali, and Burrows.

See our photos in our Flickr album.

Norma Kamali’s swimsuit top and skirt made for dancing

Although Halston and others made custom gowns for clients (and there are plenty for Liza and Liz in the exhibition), the show highlights one of their other fashion innovations that the 99 percent adopted in the Seventies ­– the swimsuit. If you had a great body, fantastic hair, and dramatic make-up, you could just throw on a bathing suit, tie on a net skirt with little sparkle, and you were ready for the club!

Designers like Kamali and Sant’Angelo partnered with fabric companies to innovate body-hugging solutions, and turned out sexy bathing suits that doubled as disco-ready separates.

One of the galleries features the fun, transparent dance skirts Antonio designed for Fiorucci that he featured in the 1977 “Fiorucci Fantasy” event he staged at Rubell and Schrager’s Queens club, The Enchanted Garden, which predated Studio 54. A video shows how Antonio’s supermodels set the New York fashion and nightlife scene ablaze.

Studio 54 coverage in the Daily News, May 4, 1977. Courtesy: Ian Schrager

For all of its influence in pop culture, it’s hard to think that Studio 54 had a lifespan of only 33 months between 1977 and 1979. The exhibition explores all of facets of the phenomenon – paparazzi, the daily tabloid fodder, Grace Jones, Andy Warhol’s goings-on, disco jeans, Interview magazine, fashion shows, and product launches.

It’s surprising to think that Doris Duke, Alan Greenspan, Lillian Carter, and Bella Abzug were just as likely to be in the club as street performance artists, Bianca Jagger, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Halston’s 1979 beaded chiffon ensemble for Liza Minelli.

To transform the old Twenties theater and TV studio into Studio 54, Schrager and Rubell tapped into the technical and artistic community to figure out how flying disco poles, set changes, and special effects could be orchestrated into a continual surprise for the partygoers. When the musical Chicago closed, designer Tony Walton repurposed his dramatic neon “Roxy” sign as a centerpiece for 54’s stage.

Some of our favorite items are the opening night guest list, Ron Galella’s celebrity photos, Antonio’s costume sketches for opening-night show by the Alvin Ailey dancers, the slideshow of their rehearsal by Juan Ramos, and the giant sapphire that Elizabeth Taylor famously wore to the club in 1979 (it’s in a safe).

Original celebrity photo portraits and Richard Bernstein illustrations for Warhol’s Interview magazine covers

Congratulations to the Brooklyn Museum staff who found and presented this amazing exhibition that lets everyone into Studio 54 to celebrity-watch nearly 40 years after the door closed on the party, and to show us how its influence still reverberates today.

Travel the Sahara Superhighway at The Met

12th – 14th c. terracotta equestrian statue from the Middle Niger civilization (Mali).

As you confront the stone monolith in the entry, get prepared to see art you’ve never before encountered, learn about empires you didn’t know existed, and fill in the blank spot on what you know about African history.

Beauty and cultural discoveries are everywhere in a first-of-its-kind exhibition on Saharan artistic legacies in Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, on view through October 26 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Large 12th – 13th c. gold pectoral, found at a burial in northwest Senegal, with elaborate filigree. Courtesy: IFAN, Senegal

The shifting sands of the Sahara are echoed in the centuries of shifting artistic traditions, migrations, civilizations, religions, and cultural affinities of the Saharan people. Take a look at our Flickr album.

This gorgeous show is one of the first to tie and unite the threads of the sub-Sahara’s nearly invisible history for Western audiences. Western approaches to art history have traditionally made it appear as if the people on a large content were a monoculture with no beginning, end, or history. The show brings a deeper artistic and historical context to work that has always suffered from just being lumped together as “African art,” or worse, “primitive art.”

Scholars on two continents are starting to piece the story together, reflected in the exhibition’s design. The alcoves are a primer to walk back through time to understand the region’s complex history, which covers deserts, oases, and farming areas that are the size of Europe. For centuries, the region was criss-crossed by trading routes (the “Saharan superhighway”) through which caravans delivered luxury goods, exotic raw materials, news, and new cultural influences.

Pre-1659 royal tunic, a European import from the Ardra kingdom (south Benin) via Mandé trade routes. Courtesy: Museum Ulm

Wooden or fired clay depictions of warrior kings on horseback from the 3rd through 19th centuries line the exhibition’s central path. Settlements, archeological sites, and kings are named, with the vast region’s artifacts, architecture, and traditions of storytelling joyously placed into a proper context.

There are plenty of national treasures, such as the gold pectoral from Senegal and lively terra cotta sculptures (likely made by women) from Mali, made with the highest levels of craftsmen between the 12th  and 14th centuries. Another highlight is the still-vibrant 8th-century woven tunic from Niger, one of Africa’s most ancient textiles.

The exhibition explains how Islam gradually, peacefully became the dominant religion in sub-Saharan Africa, displacing the previous belief systems. As is the case with other world cultures, artists continued to merge and adapt older, more traditional symbols and forms with the new.

Wood sculptures of Mali’s Bamana people, from the 15th to 20th century

An intriguing 15th-century Italian map-painting documents Mansa Musa, a 14th-century emperor from Mali, who achieved global celebrity status for his over-the-top pilgrimage to Mecca via Cairo and was inspired to develop Timbuktu into a center of Islamic scholarship.

The display of Bamana sculptures, dating from the 15th to 20th centuries, in the rear gallery is the show’s dramatic conclusion, although the walls depict incredible resist-dye textiles made by early 20th century women in Mali and couture-level embroidery on pure white status garments of the Timbuktu elite from the Sixties.

Senegalese kora made before 1878, used by griots to perform social narratives.

The show was an epic undertaking by the Met  – organizing a narrative and objects to tell two thousand years of relatively unknown history; first-time loans of national treasures from the museums in Niger, Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania; arranging for an 8,000-lb. monolith to be shipped across the Atlantic to New York.

The epic histories recounted by griots playing traditional instruments over the centuries play a large role in the exhibition. Koras and percussion instruments are on display, and music permeates the galleries.

Here’s a peaceful walk through the exhibition with music by Toumani Diabaté with Ballake Sissoko:

For an in-depth understanding of this ground-breaking show, join in on this conversation with Met curator Alisa LaGamma and scholar and writer Manthia Diawara:

Learn more about the epic history of the Sahara in the Met’s exhibition guide.

Cardin Sees the Future Through Fashion

The Brooklyn Museum’s latest blockbuster fashion exhibition Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion, open through January 5, presents the work of a French designer who continues to be inspired by the belief that simplicity, design, and science are essential ingredients for a world that lives in peace, treats men and women equally, and looks to the horizon.

Geometric minidresses and men’s ensembles worn with tights and over bodysuits from the revolutionary 1964 Cosmocorps collection

Cardin came of age as a designer in the 1950s creating luscious swing coats, lasso-backed draped suits, and prim (but red-hot) looks for Jackie Kennedy. But he shot to “influencer” status in the early 1960s with unisex looks, bodysuits, collarless jackets for the Beatles, reliance on a fashion-forward Japanese model, turtlenecks (for men and women), hoods, felt helmets, and body jewelry – in other words, all the basic building blocks that would be used to clothe the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

1957 “lasso back” suit, 1968 bodysuit ensemble, and Cosmocorps photo with video showing the unisex Star Trek costumes it inspired in 1966

The Brooklyn show begins with a chronology of Cardin’s young life – soldier, costumer, and Christian’s first employee at the House of Dior in 1946 – but rapidly gives way to a sensational array of tubular, unisex clothing from his mind-blowing Cosmocorps collection, which had so much impact on Sixties culture. Take a look at our favorites in Flickr album.

1968 wool and vinyl minidress, 1966 aluminum statement jewelry, a 1970 wool crepe “Kinetic” dress, and Avedon photo of Penelope Tree wearing a 1968 evening dress and collar

Although several other European designers could be credited with the evolution of the miniskirt, no one channeled the Space Age like Pierre Cardin when it came to shape, form, and use of new fabrics and materials – lenticular plexiglass, vinyl, Dynel pressed into 3D forms and shaped for the body, and parabolic structures that underpinned evening gowns, men’s jackets, and skirts. Pierre even went so far as to visit Houston and slip on an Apollo 11 astronaut’s suit.

1969 lenticular plexiglass and vinyl “armor” dress, 1968 heat-molded Dynel dress, 2007 jersey coat and suit with rubber, and 1991 jersey evening ensemble with parabolic shoulders and hat

It’s clear that the Sixties and Seventies fashions in the show reflect what was going on in the art world at the time – bright, bold colors of Pop Art, pared-down minimalism, an embrace of non-traditional materials, and kinetic art. (Carwash dresses, anyone?)

Even Cardin’s forays into furniture design reflect his belief that his hand-made contemporary works genuinely functioned as art first and utilitarian additions to the home second.

1968 circle coat and hat, next to 1979 Junior Unit, and 1977 Serge Manzon lamp

The final gallery in the Brooklyn show is a darkened room populated with mannequins in shimmering gowns and suits, electrified dresses and sportswear, and pieces embellished with parabolic hoops and flourishes – sheer Space Age magic. Slight swoops across the space, framing the last 20 years of Cardin’s output with an other-worldly, visionary feel.

2008 evening dress with parabolic hem, 2003 evening gown with plastic tubes, 1994/2000 velvet evening dress with Swarovski crystals on the orbital sleeves, and 2013 silk/lame evening dress with Swarovski crystals

A surprise inspiration is the revelation that Cardin at 97 is still designing and looking toward the future.  His predictions? That people will be on the Moon in 2069 wearing his Cosmocorps look, women will be sporting tube clothing and Plexiglass cloche hats, and that men will be wearing kinetic tunics and elliptical trousers.  Why not?

Watch as the curator explains how Cardin envisioned the future…

…and why this retrospective of his work is just right right now:

Catholic Inspiration for Fashion at the Met

Balenciaga’s 1967 silk wedding dress in the Romanesque Chapel at the Met Cloisters

The brilliant installation of haute couture in the historic halls of the Met Cloisters, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, closing October 8, also serves as a surprising showcase for the spectacular medieval art residing in the same space.

Curator Andrew Bolton’s thoughtful placement and narrative creates a genuine conversation between European couture and religious-themed works made over 500 years ago at both the Cloisters and the Met’s Fifth Avenue location.

The Cloisters show starts spectacularly with Balenciaga’s 1967 wedding dress dramatically casting shadows across the floor of the largest room at the Cloisters, the Romanesque chapel with its outsized arch and crucifix.

Closeup of Jean Paul Gaultier’s 2007 evening ensemble printed with 15th c. image of the Virgin by Jean Fouquet.

The jeweled pieces of German stained glass are echoed by Gaultier gowns, and Craig Green’s avant-garde ensembles created from Islamic prayer rugs are at home amidst the 13th century tapestries in the Hall of Heroes. Looking at each contemporary expression fully reflects the magnificent artwork resting just a few feet away.

Hidden spaces, leafy cloisters, underground tombs, light-filled corridors, and dark, secret corners of the Treasury all provide surprises and context for exploring visitors – Valentino’s Garden of Eden dress, Galliano’s Machiavelli gown for Dior, Dolce & Gabbana’s gold silk-and-metal macramé wedding ensemble, and McQueen’s crown-of-thorns headpiece.  Seek and you will find.

Sleeve detail of monastic paper taffeta 1969 evening dress by Madame Grés.

Take a look at our Flickr album to see many close-up the details of all the clothes and surrounding artwork.

The Met has gone all out to make the connections between clothes and the Catholic themes explicit, providing innovative high-res photos, several brief videos and blog posts. Read more about the themes here.

Andrew Bolton, the show’s curator, gives an overview of all the inspiration and documentation of the exquisite clothing, jewelry, and inspirational art work in the show in this video here.

Closeup of Olivier Theyskens’ 1999 evening dress with a hook-and-eye closure in the shape of the cross. From the Crusades section of the show in the Gothic Chapel.

Click here to walk through every room of the Cloisters with Andrew Bolton and hear him explain how he made the selections according to the surrounding artworks.

The Fifth Avenue portion of the show is, like so much of Catholic pageantry, more of a public event, filling the Medieval hall with fashions inspired by angels, secular clergy, nuns, Mary, and saints, all dominated by an Ecclesiastical Fashion Show.

The Fifth Avenue portion of the show is, like so much of Catholic pageantry, more of a public event, filling the Medieval hall with fashions inspired by angels, secular clergy, nuns, Mary, and saints, all dominated by an Ecclesiastical Fashion Show.

Highlights include a procession of works from Gianni Versace’s last collection, Gaultier’s hologram votive dress, Mugler’s floating angel, and the loft high above it all, populated by ethereal figures wearing choir robes by Balenciaga.

1984 dress by Thierry Mugler from his Winter of Angels collection, part of the Celestial Hierarchy at Fifth Avenue

Here’s a link to the Met’s walkthrough video.

An important part of the Met’s undertaking is a spectacular mini-exhibition of incredible works of clothing art from the Vatican, which took significant negotiation. Here, Andrew shows highlights of the items on loan from the Vatican, some of which have never been displayed abroad before.

Walk through the Met’s Vatican section of the show here.

Gold and Other Ancient Luxuries at The Met

Gold crown, headband, and ear flares worn by high-status person from Peru’s Northern Coast (Chongoyape), 800 – 500 B.C. Collection: NMAI, Smithsonian.

What constitutes luxury? Something wildly extravagant, made of expensive and rare materials, and incredibly intricate and beautiful.

There’s plenty on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas, running through May 28.

The show, which returns to New York after a run at the Getty in Los Angeles, is a fulfilling journey that takes you over 3,000 miles through North and South America and across the years – from 1200 B.C. to the Spanish conquest of mighty kingdoms.

The star attraction is gold, which was hammered and fashioned into portable ornaments worn by high-net-worth individuals centuries ago. Crowns, ear flares, and nose ornaments from Peru’s northern coast, made sometime between 800 and 300 B.C., are on display right at the start of the show.

Front of a headdress from Peru (Moche), 300 – 600 A.D. Collection: Lima’s National Museum

But as you wind your way further through time and cultures, many more virtuoso works are displayed – a gold sheet octopus for the front of a headdress and the dramatic crescent-shaped burial ornamentation for the Lord of Sipán, both Peruvian pieces from the Moche culture made 600 years later.

In the center gallery, you encounter whimsical gold sculptures from Colombia made nearly a thousand years later by Colombia’s Muisca people, who “sacrificed” some of these precious items to the gods by tossing them into lakes or cenotes – a practice that unfortunately led the Spanish to believe that the mythical El Dorado really existed.

Incan tunics for votive figures, 1460 – 1626 A.D. From The Met, Field Museum, and AMNH.

Curators segment the show by highlighting the various approaches to luxury by different indigenous cultures – intricately woven textiles, feathered shirts and temple wall hangings, carved jade, monumental stone portraits of royalty, and even a lime container in the shape of a jaguar that is partly made from platinum.

Because materials were sourced so far from where the luxury items were crafted and preserved, the show weaves a rich tale of trade. Networks for jade far from Guatemala, tropical birds far from the Amazon rainforest, and ocean shells far from the dry Andean highlands.

Pair of gold, shell, and stone ear ornaments from Peru’s North Coast (Moche), 200 – 600 A.D. Collection: The Met

The mosaics, beadwork, and of multiple precious-stone inlay are dazzling, both in their visual impact and when you stop to consider the South American supply chain.

The magical properties of shells were acknowledged by everyone in these ancient kingdoms – from the rulers and lords that sported patterned multicolored shell collars to priests using shell-shaped ceramics for ritual offerings to everyday farmers who ensured sufficient rain by scattering broken shells in their fields.

Mixtec mask of spondylus shell, mother of pearl, and turquoise, 1200 – 1521 A.D. Collection: Italy’s MIBACT Museum of Civilization

Spondylus shells – the ultimate in marine adornment – only came from the oceans near Ecuador or northern Peru. Rulers just had to have them.

By the time the Spanish arrived in the New World, the level of artwork was at an all-time high. A particularly virtuoso inlaid Mixteca mask is shown toward the end of the show – one so beautiful that it came into the hands of Count Medici and is on loan from a museum in Italy.

Take a look at the beautiful items on the Met’s exhibition website and our favorites on our Flickr album.

See what’s behind the golden door by taking a peaceful video walk through this gorgeous show. All you’ll hear are the magical Mayan cenote bells:

Find out more by listening to the audio guide of the show here.

When Jewelry Has Its Own Idea

Organic geometry: Kazumi Nagano’s brooch of folded linen paper and other materials.

Can jewelry actually speak? The Cooper Hewitt curators thought so when they went through the expansive collection that a donor had assembled, as shown in Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection, on view in New York through May 28.

Lewin, who donated her collection to the Smithsonian, was passionate about collecting fairly conceptual wearable art pieces – works that reflected pop culture, or held great symbolic meaning, or told a story that was significant to the artist.

Around 150 bracelets, pendants, necklaces, and rings are on display in the show. They’re all intriguing works on their own, each telling a story, but the selections are nicely classified into sub-groups, such as Nature, Symbol and Metaphor, Memory, and so on.

Nature: Daniel Kruger’s necklace with pressed flowers and leaves.

Some groups tell the art-for-art’s sake story; other groups are made of materials with charged significance. But all reflect the deep thought that jewelry artists give to their work and the delight the wearer has in either sharing the story of the piece or just keeping its secret to themselves.

The show emphasizes how ground-breaking artists have conceptualized jewelry to go beyond the constraints of simply pretty, glitzy, or decorative ends.

For example, the paper necklaces by Kiff Siemmons speak to the artist’s interest in pulling dramatic shapes out of lowly materials and in cross-cultural collaboration – in this case, working with artisans from Oaxaca’s Arte Papel who are expertly reviving pre-Columbian paper making technology with traditional, plant-based dyes.

Attai Chen’s paper, paint and coal necklace from Nature section of the show

In the portion of the show where jewelry reflects society and the human condition, designer Deganit Stern Schocken used crushed soda cans and zircons in a piece named after Israel’s largest checkpoint, evoking the daily West Bank anxieties of passing between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The fact that Estonian artist Kadri Malik incorporated a large shark tooth in her “It’s Getting So Dark” necklace gives the piece a voice that speaks volumes, even if the wearer doesn’t say a word. The same is true for Attai Chen’s dark riff on nature — dramatic necklace formed from paper, paint and coal.

Art Smith’s 1948 Modernette Cuff Bracelet reflecting the art world’s interest in biomorphic forms

The show also touches on the history of post-war wearable art by innovators in America and Europe, including a biomorphic piece by Sixties jewelry maker Art Smith, who was connecting the dots among the cultural influences he was seeing in painting and dance studios from his Village studio.

What about other art for art’s sake? The curators showcase collection pieces that are colorfully painted, baubles incorporating found objects, and art that simply conveys the joy of pure, clean, abstractions.

Lewin certainly had fun collecting and wearing provocative pieces, and the curators also seemed to have enjoyed displaying these fascinating works in a context that suits them.

Take a look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

To give an idea of how kinetic artist Friedrich Becker conceptualized his work in motion, here’s a video showing how his ring activates to convey its story when worn:

This show focuses upon an international array of artists. But for anyone that wants to dig deeper into the roots of American studio jewelry 1940 – 1970, art historian Toni Greenbaum  describes how artist-made jewelry came to its cherished place in the art and design worlds today: